Voices at the Door
He knew this was an ending, but sometimes… sometimes it seemed to him as if this was the beginning of all things.
They passed out of Rivendell, and sad songs followed them. "I think I went for a walk this way," he murmured, "once upon a time. Aragorn caught up with me. We talked about ancient ruins."
He turned his face away as they passed by Weathertop, and did not think about it.
"I never thought I'd see the Shire again," he said, as they stopped to stretch their legs. Bilbo managed three steps, leaning on Elrond's arm. "Oh, I forgot. I didn't need to. Aragorn brought me pictures of it. A sunken lane and soft green hills. And wine, I think; we talked about wine."
Dawn came soft and early on some other day. Bilbo raised his chin from where it had nodded on his chest. "This is quite a pretty place, isn't it? Where is it?"
"The heart of the Shire," said Elrond. "Woody End, I believe the hobbits call it."
"I played here once, a very long time ago," Bilbo said, "but it feels as if I'm coming here for the first time."
He was rocked in the arms of harp music. When he opened his eyes, he was unsurprised to see Frodo and Sam waiting for them in the twilight. "Hullo, Frodo!" he said.
Having Frodo there made the memories come closer to the surface. Often now he drifted, unless there was a friend or a familiar face to anchor him to awareness. Once he'd expected to travel so very far. Then he'd accepted that he would never travel again. But now, "I think I am quite ready to go on another journey," he said.
They rode through song, until they emerged on the far side of it, and saw the sea. "Oh look, Frodo, the sea! I've never seen the sea! But now I see it, I think… I know that I've dreamed about it, oh so many times."
"So have I," said Frodo.
"Or maybe it's just because the elves sing about it so much. It's hard to remember what you've seen and what you've only heard about. But there's no 'only' about it. I remember the pictures and some of the songs. I have forgotten so many of the places where I've been."
The white ship drew his eyes for a while. "Oh, look," Bilbo said, and it might have been hours later, or just minutes. "Gandalf's here."
Frodo smiled. Sam was weeping.
Then Merry and Pippin rode up. "I wish Aragorn was here," Bilbo said, "because then we'd have everyone. I wonder if he's seen the sea. I'll have such a picture to paint for him next time we meet." Above him, the white sea birds called. "No, I remember now," said Bilbo. "I won't see the Dunadan again. The world is his now, or all the dearest, most precious parts of it. I won't…"
But then it was time to go onto the ship. The wind filled the sails, and then they were away.
"It's quite nice," said Bilbo, "travelling without getting sore feet. I should have done this before. But then I'd have missed seeing Aragorn coming into his own. I liked seeing that."
There was music even then, and the birds and the waves and the sails made music of their own, and all of them together made a perfect tune. Frodo looked back towards Middle Earth, but Bilbo turned to face the West, "because I began to say my farewells so many years ago," he murmured, but his words were taken by the wind.
Slowly, slowly memory returned. "Do you remember…?" he said to Frodo more than once. "I remember… I remember…"
The Shire in spring time. Rivendell in the winter. His father's hand upon his head. Scurrying after Thorin and the dwarves. Aragorn reflected in the water, crowned with stars. Black rocks on the moorland. A skylark's song. Frodo asleep and so very pale. Arwen at a window. A ruin by the river. The laughter of elves.
And then, far away in the west, they saw a silver strand, and a soft fragrance came across the waves. On they sailed, and as the sun rose, Bilbo saw a land of soft green hills and fair flowers. Blinking, he saw towers of white stone, and clouds in the moonlight, and rocks on the moorland, sparkling in the light. He saw sunlight on the water, and apple blossom and cherry trees. He saw every tree there had ever been, in every different green. He saw the plains of Rohan and the woods of Lorien, and all the places he had ever seen, and all the places he had yet to travel to.
"Oh!" He clapped his hands together. "It's all here! It's all here, because Middle Earth's just an echo of Valinor beyond the sea."
And with the places came the memories. Because how could he look upon white towers without feeling that Aragorn stood beside him, painting them with words? How could he look upon starlight without remembering Arwen? How could he see stone without seeing Thorin? How could he see green hills without remembering those old, dear hobbits of the Shire?
"I understand now," he said. "This is the origin of all songs, and everything is here, everything, everything that matters."
And smiling, he stepped from the ship and walked into the pictures beyond.
Note: The title comes from "I set beside the fire and think," the poem Bilbo sings not long before the Fellowship leaves Rivendell. Several near-quotes from this poem are scattered through the story.
Thanks to anyone who's reached the end. If you enjoyed it, it would be lovely if you could consider letting me know. I'm very new to writing in this fanfom (although I've loved the books for many decades) so am still very much in nervous, insecure mode. Thanks for reading!