Bilbo still doesn't fully understand it.
From what the Elves and Gandalf had worked out, it was all his fault. Now, they didn't explicitly state this, not in such words at least, but Bilbo couldn't help but feel that the blame for it all lied with him.
What he does understand, is that it all began after his little fall in the Goblin Tunnels.
The goblins hadn't been down there for many years but after the Company’s escape from the perilous mountain hideout, the goblins searched high and low for remaining signs of the intruders. Down in the tunnels, they were able to catch the scent of something familiar to them. Something they hadn’t smelt for many years; the scent of Hobbit. Namely, Took Hobbit.
The very same tale Gandalf had told him that fateful night of the unexpected party to try to convince him to join a foolhardy quest had come to light once more. If he had the heart left, Bilbo would have laughed at the irony of it all.
It was the tale of his Great-Grand-Uncle Brandobas “the Bullroarer” Took. When old Bullroarer knocked the head off of the Goblin Chief Golfimbul’s shoulders, it apparently struck a nerve. In the goblins’ retreat, they had forgotten the scent of Hobbit and apparently the bad blood to their king-killer. It wasn't until Bilbo’s little adventure and his subsequent tumble in the Goblin Tunnels did the scent become known once more. It wasn't easy to track however, so they needed to wait for the creature Gollum to expel himself from the tunnels to get a fresher scent, for not even they would go near him.
That's how they were able to track the Took line. Through him. That smidgen of Tookishness in him lead the foul creatures to the Shire, on Bullroarer Day, no less. Everyone was celebrating. No one was ready for battle.
“It was not your fault, you know.” spoke a voice suddenly, disturbing the quiet of the Rivendell room and Bilbo from his thoughts, reading them with the ability that only his nephew possessed.
Bilbo turned around to see - just as he suspected - the young hobbit standing in the doorway.
“Oh, Frodo. You know it's impolite to sneak up on others.” Bilbo chided, momentary alarm over the sudden arrival easing away. “Without knocking, no less...” he added in a mutter as he turned back to his new desk made of a slab of stone and beautifully carved wood that Lord Elrond himself was kind enough to have commissioned for him.
“Well, there aren't exactly doors to knock on now, are there?” the dark haired boy remarked with a playful grin, in a rather audacious manner.
“When did you become so cheeky?” Bilbo reprimanded without much malice as he began to sort through his papers once more.
“I'm afraid my younger cousins are to blame for that.” Frodo informed falsely grave as he took a seat on one of the elaborate-looking footstools besides the desk. (Well, it was a footstool to an Elf maybe, but to a Hobbit it was one of the comfiest regular-sized stools around).
“Ah, I see.” Bilbo huffed as he felt a small smile grace his face - a rarity these days - at the thought of his younger wards and their antics. Small blessings like these were a real treat with the somber mood everyone had been feeling as of late. With this thought, he continued a pressing line of questioning, “Speaking of which, how are the others faring today? And what kind of trouble might you be letting them get in to, hm?”
“Oh, relax. They’re off troubling poor ole Lindir.” Frodo informed, referring to the elf. “Besides, Sam’s there to keep them in check.” he assured. Then, as if he could sense a change in the air, Bilbo looked up from his papers and over to his nephew only to see that Frodo’s easy smile had strained. “But it’s not as though any of them have the heart for trouble making at the moment…” the boy trailed forlornly, causing Bilbo to frown.
“Sam's mood is much the same,” Frodo started in his report, beginning with their only non-relation. “he’s still very quiet, more so than he once already was, and likes to avoid talking about anything if I try bringing it up or he just insists he’s fine.”
Bilbo hummed, as troubled by the revelation as his young nephew was. It was very like Sam to make little of his troubles. As Bilbo first feared, Sam’s role as an older brother had followed him on the road as he applied it to their younger companions. That was all fine and dandy, especially when there were younglings to look after, but Sam himself was a child and he was already too self-sacrificing for his own good. Because of Bilbo, Sam was away from his entire family, alone in a sense that the rest of the hobbits weren’t, yet he still felt the need to fulfill the role of a provider and helper and Bilbo felt horrible for it.
“Merry is still very moody and is getting quite snippy, if I do say so myself.” Frodo informed, drawing Bilbo from his troubled thoughts with more troubling news. Frodo himself looked quite miffed by the change in his younger cousin.
“He’s confused. Merry being ‘snippy’ is just part of his coping.” Bilbo offered in an attempt to ease his nephew’s ire.
At this, Frodo’s angry frown turned grim, as if he had already accepted this fact and was none too pleased with it. “I know that, but he gets angry so easily and at the smallest of things.” Frodo countered. After a moment of silence, he softly added, “I miss my Merry-lad…” and Bilbo felt his already weary heart ache.
After his parents died and before Bilbo adopted him, Frodo lived in Brandy Hall with his Brandybuck relations and took the role of an older brother-figure to one of the younger hobbit lads, his first cousin Merry. Seeing their relationship strained so due to the results of his own actions made Bilbo feel beyond guilty and downright despicable.
“I know, lad. I gather that Merry is more angry with his inability to do something about our current situation rather than with whatever he pretends is bothering him.” Bilbo consoled, attempting to ease his young ward as much as he was himself.
“I know, but he’s even snapping at Pippin!” Frodo exclaimed, sounding exasperated.
Now at this bit of information regarding the youngest of their party, Bilbo looked surprised for normally Merry treated his precious baby cousin with such fondness.
“And what of Pippin? How is he?” Bilbo asked, suddenly worried if he had ruined that relationship as well. If it were true, then Bilbo was truly heinous indeed because he had never seen a relationship that rivaled that of the two young cousins from the countryside (there was another pair he once knew who came close, but not quite).
Frodo’s ire at his first cousin melted away with the thoughts of his young second cousin. “The same too, I suppose. His heart still seems lighter than the rest of ours but I’m afraid he’s still not near his usual level of cheer. He’s happy and playful most days though he is very peeved and confused at Merry’s actions. You know he hasn’t let Pippin out of his sight once, since all this has happened? Merry even watches him as he takes his naps! He’s been quite keen on keeping track of all of us, actually...”
“Yes, it’s as I thought.” Bilbo mused. “Merry is perhaps just very angry with his inability to do anything and just sees watching over all of you as a sort of standing guard. And Pippin is just too young to fully understand what’s going on.”
“He’s just confused.” Frodo chimed in, picking up on the common theme his uncle was implying.
“Exactly. And Sam is still reluctant to share anything. Though I do suppose he’s missing his family. They all are.”
Frodo nodded solemnly, no doubt feeling a bit guilty that he was the only one to have his parental-figure with him. Bilbo smiled wearily and got up from his seat to kneel in front of the lad and patted his leg in a comforting manner, causing the dark-haired boy to look up at him.
“I want to thank you for the way you’re handling all this, Frodo.” Bilbo thanked sincerely. “You’re being very mature.”
“Of course I am. I am an adult, you know.” Frodo stated matter-of-factly, sounding slightly indignant.
“Just barely. Enjoy your youth.” Bilbo laughed as he got up to return to his chair.
The two were in comfortable silence for a few peaceful moments until Frodo spoke up once more. “Uncle Bilbo?” he began.
“Yes?” the elder responded as he began to return to his paper-cluttered desk.
“You trust me, don’t you?” Frodo asked rather cryptically.
Bilbo turned away from his desk once again. “Uh, well, yes of course I do.” he honestly replied.
“Then if I do something, something that I think is for the best, you wouldn’t get angry? Even if you were against it?” the young hobbit continued on strangely.
Now Bilbo was completely lost. “Y-Yes…? But, Frodo whatever do you mean?”
The boy definitely looked a bit guilty of something but before Frodo could answer, Elven horns sounded from outside, announcing visitors.
“Gandalf isn’t due back yet…” Bilbo muttered to himself curiously, walking past Frodo to step out onto his balcony to try to catch a glimpse of who could be here. Lord Elrond did not mention they’d be receiving any visitors…
“It’s not Gandalf.” Frodo simply said as he walked down the steps - quite hurriedly - and disappeared.
Before Bilbo could stop his suspicious nephew, he caught sight of seven very familiar Dwarves gathering below his balcony and proceeded to stare in utter bafflement.