Welcome to Chapter 1 of my new story. (Chapter 1 is more of a prologue to the story itself.) Hope you enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

NOTE: Bilbo's dialogue in paragraph 7 is taken directly from "The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien.



Chapter 1 --- Reunion

S.R. 1419, September 21

Most of Elrond's entourage had ridden ahead days ago, alerting all of Imladris to the imminent return of their Lord, and of Mithrandir and the hobbits. Lights were blazing in every window and throughout the courtyard, and from the back of his pony Sam gazed about with wonder at what appeared to be hundreds of Elves lining every walkway, balcony, and stair. The evening air was filled with music; songs of such joy they brought tears to the eye. It was a sight, and sound, that would remain with Sam for the rest of his life.

The weary company rode up to the front of the main House and dismounted, where their ponies and horses were led away to the stables. The hobbits stood in awed silence as everyone surrounding the little group bowed reverently to them.

We're back, at last we're back, is he still alive, where is he where is he, is he well, let me go to him, let me GO!

Elrond knelt down in front of Frodo. "Go," he whispered with a smile.

Instantly Frodo bolted from the group, running as fast as he could past the astonished Elves. Up the stairs, down long-remembered corridors, up more stairs, which room, yes this one.... skidding to a halt in front of a partly-closed door. A gentle light flickered within. Hardly able to breathe and shaking just a bit, Frodo pushed open the door.

Bilbo sat in a chair by a softly glowing fire, his head bowed as if in blissful sleep. Frodo stepped into the familiar room, his eyes taking in the mountains of papers and books, inkpots and quills scattered about, the rumpled bed, a few candles lit. Everything as he remembered. Behind him he heard hobbit footsteps coming down the corridor towards the room. He took another step forward. "Bilbo?" he whispered.

The small figure in the chair opened his eyes and looked up at the sight of four hobbits in travel-stained garb staring at him from the doorway. He smiled. "So you've come back? And tomorrow's my birthday, too. How clever of you! Do you know, I shall be one hundred and twenty-nine? And in one year more, if I am spared, I shall equal the Old Took. I should like to beat him; but we shall see."

At the familiar face, the dear voice, Frodo stumbled forward with a sob, sank to his knees, threw his arms about Bilbo's waist and laid his head against the old hobbit's knee. Oh Bilbo, Frodo thought, I'm back, I can't believe it. It was awful, we're alive, you're alive, you look older, I don't care, you're here. We're free, Bilbo, It's gone. Did you feel anything when It melted? Do you know how I've missed you? Are you proud of me?

"Frodo, my lad." Bilbo's voice. A gentle, loving hand on his curls, one stroking his shoulder. "Dear lad."

Frodo felt as he had when he was in the Tower being held in Sam's arms, resigned to the loss of the Ring and willing to rest peacefully for the rest of his life with loving, protective arms about him. He sighed, lost in thought, lost in memories. Dear Bilbo, you're here. It's over. I'm back.


"Mr. Frodo," said a gentle voice behind him.

Frodo looked up, startled, at Sam standing just behind him, then looked around. He was sitting on the floor at Bilbo's feet, the old hobbit's head once more nodding in sleep. The fire had burned low. Sam looked scrubbed and clean, and had changed out of his travel garb.

"Sam," Frodo said, scrambling to his feet. "What time is it?"

"It's getting late. I thought you might be needing some supper and a hot bath before bed." Sam motioned toward Bilbo. "We can do some visiting tomorrow."

Frodo smiled and nodded, suddenly hungry and aware that he hadn't even taken off his cloak. "Yes, tomorrow. And many days after that." He kissed Bilbo on the forehead, then let Sam lead him down the corridor to the room he had occupied a year before. His pack had been brought up to the room. Food had been set out on a table and a tub of clean water awaited. Several Elves Frodo had not met before stood about in the room and bowed gravely to him.

"Let them tend to you, sir, they practically fought over the honor. They wouldn't let me do anything!"

Frodo chuckled and pressed his friend's hand. "Thank you, Sam." Sam smiled and left the room. All at once Frodo realized how weary he was. Ignoring his protests, the Elves helped him remove his clothing and eased him into the heated water. Sighing, he finally just relaxed and enjoyed the feel of the water, of letting the Elves gently wash him, dry him in warmed towels, slip a soft nightshirt over his head. Still respectfully silent, one of the Elves motioned to the waiting food.

"Thank you," said Frodo quietly.

"It is our honor, Master Baggins. You must tell us if you require even the smallest thing. All owe you a debt that can never be repaid." They bowed once again, and left him alone.

Frodo ate a little, then walked over to the window where he had spent so much time the previous autumn. The view was the same. Everything seemed the same, yet everything had changed. He breathed deeply of the flower- scented air of Rivendell, hearing far-off singing. After awhile he lay down on the soft bed, and was almost instantly asleep.

A short time later, Sam, Merry, and Pippin came to bid Frodo goodnight. Seeing him already peacefully asleep, Sam covered him with a light blanket.

"We all made it back," Merry whispered, "I can hardly believe it."

Pippin sighed. "It's all starting to feel like a dream."

Sam put out the candles flickering on a table next to the bed. "Tomorrow's his birthday too, you know. I doubt he even remembers."

Pippin smiled. "Gandalf remembers. I overhead him and Elrond talking about it days ago." He yawned loudly. "Elrond said he would tell Frodo, and Gandalf said to wait for his birthday."

"He would tell Frodo what?" Merry asked.

"That's all I heard." Pippin yawned again.

Merry pushed him playfully. "Come on, you silly hobbit, let's get some sleep. In real beds for a change."

Sam bent low over Frodo. "Good night, sir," he whispered, and the three of them left the room as silently as they had come.

** TBC **