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A New Homely House

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Elrond woke with the sun.

He hadn’t yet accustomed himself to sunrise illuminating his bedroom. In Imladris, the east windows faced the mountains, so morning light crept in later and more gently. Here, east windows faced the sea and caught the earliest rays.

Celebrían adored the suite Olwë and Súyelírë had given over to them, so he would not dream of asking for heavier curtains or if the bed might perhaps be moved to the inner room. Waking a few hours earlier than usual for a few weeks was a small matter if it meant seeing his wife happy.

But as Celebrían could somehow sleep through the dawn, it did leave him several hours each morning while she was still asleep.

He slipped out of bed, dressing quietly.

Fortunately, he knew there was at least one other person who would be awake at this early hour.

As he had expected, he found Bilbo Baggins in the courtyard, sitting on the edge of the fountain and humming to himself. Elrond recognized the song as the one that had been sung by Thorin’s company years ago in Bag End as they helped a rather horrified Bilbo tidy up. It had been rather a favorite in Imladris these last few years. Lindir had improvised a few more verses to be sung while packing.

“I say – oh, goodness me, it’s you, Master Elrond!”

“Were you expecting someone else, Master Baggins?” Elrond asked in some amusement.

“Well, yes, as it happens. I’ve found that if I wait here in the morning, whoever of the staff happen to be up and about first will oblige me by opening the gate so I can go walking,” Bilbo explained. “I can’t quite reach the mechanism myself, you see.”

Elrond stifled a groan.

He should have thought to check sooner that Bilbo was not having any difficulties now that he was among elves who were not used to hobbits, and thus unaware that sometimes one had to make certain minor accommodations for their smaller stature.

Olwë’s gates were never locked, but the latch that held them closed overnight was a good foot above Bilbo’s head. Opening it might have been taken as a challenge by a young and fit hobbit, but for an elderly hobbit who walked with the aid of a stick and could no longer balance on his toes, it was an impossibility.

“I would be happy to help,” he said, opening the gate. “Were you intent on walking by yourself? I have nothing to do until mid-morning and would not mind offering myself as a companion should you desire company.”

“Only if you want a walk yourself,” Bilbo said, wagging a finger at him. “You’re not obliged to keep me amused!”

“I should be glad of the walk,” Elrond smiled. “I suspect we face a similar problem, you and I – we share chambers with late risers we do not wish to disturb.”

“Yes,” Bilbo sighed. “Frodo is looking much better now, of course, but he still needs his rest, and I simply don’t sleep as much these days!”

Elrond nodded. Valinor had not rejuvenated the elderly hobbit, but it had certainly reinvigorated him. At Imladris, he had begun to talk somewhat wistfully of matching the Old Took as though it might not happen – and after the destruction of the Ring, there had briefly been some doubt that it would.

But as Mithrandir had so often remarked, hobbits really were amazing creatures. Having set his mind on the goal of equaling the age of the oldest hobbit on record, Bilbo had managed to hold out long enough to hear of his invitation to take a place on the ship bound for the West with Elrond, Galadriel, and Mithrandir. That put just enough spark in him to last until the harbor, and the prospect of one last adventure had seen him through to the fresh air of the West.

As they strolled through the quiet streets, Elrond realized they must make an unlikely pair in the eyes of the Alqualondrim, Bilbo with his walking stick – still needed now, though not nearly so much as it had been as recently as Mithlond – and Elrond with clothes that did not match the fashion here. (Though he suspected if Queen Súyelírë had her way, he’d soon be outfitted along Lindarin lines. Celebrían was greatly amused at the not-so-stealthy additions to his wardrobe.)

Bilbo set the direction, and Elrond was content to amble along with him, for he had not seen much of Alqualondë outside of Olwë’s halls. He was curious to see what an elven city that had never had to worry about Sauron or Morgoth looked like. He only hoped the hobbit didn’t think he’d be up to any erudite commentary about it.

“Do not trouble yourself, I don’t expect you to play guide,” Bilbo chuckled after a sideways glance that caught Elrond looking curiously at a shipyard. “I’ve been taking these little rambles every morning since we arrived. It’s a good time of day to look about without being underfoot, as it were. Though everyone is quite friendly.”

“Are you surprised to find them so?” Elrond asked.

“No, not exactly. But you must admit they’re a bit different than the folk of Rivendell – then again, perhaps you haven’t met enough of them yet to form an opinion. I was forgetting that you’ve had quite the family gathering to welcome you. Hardly had a moment to yourself, I expect!”

“I hope you haven’t felt neglected,” Elrond began, only to be cut short by a snort of amusement.

“My dear fellow,” Bilbo chuckled. “If you weren’t so busy making the acquaintance of all your relations you’d have seen Frodo and I have emphatically not lacked for attention. Hobbits seem to be quite the novelty here – which I suppose I should have expected, but I was rather used to Rivendell, where any novelty was due more to my audacity than my size!”

“I’ve found the one accentuates the other,” Elrond said drily. “And I am not sure whether to be thankful or worried that what you’ve observed is not in fact ‘all my relations’. There are more inland, I’m told. This is a smaller selection of them so as not to overwhelm me with the whole lot at once.”

At that, Bilbo laughed so hard he cried.

“Oh, I do apologize!” he gasped. “I’m sure from your perspective it’s not the least bit amusing. We hobbits at least grow up with our second cousins once removed and great-aunt’s husband’s brothers wandering in and out. It must be a bit disconcerting to suddenly find yourself a mere twig on a sizable family tree after so many years with no relations about but your wife and children.”

“It is disconcerting only in coming face to face with so many of them at once,” Elrond replied with a smile. “I was told as a child that I did have a sprawling family, they were just no longer to be found East of the Sea. I am now seeing the truth of it.”

That wasn’t the full truth, but it was close enough.

When he and his brother had been sent to Balar, they had been aware Gil-galad was a kinsman, for Maedhros and Maglor had been at great pains to make sure they knew it. Celeborn had also been his kinsman before Elrond had wed Celebrían. But he had to concede one or two kinsmen was rather skimpy compared to the extensive clans to which hobbits were accustomed. It wouldn’t surprise him if Bilbo had in fact already written something up on his Amanyar relatives. Hobbits had a surprising passion for genealogy.

“How do you get on with them?” Bilbo asked.

“It’s a bit early to say I do or don’t get on, surely,” Elrond protested. “I’ve only just met them!”

“Nonsense!” Bilbo snorted. “Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and I detested each other practically from the off. Never got on. Even when she had only just married my cousin Otho I had the disagreeable feeling she was eying up Bag End. She never did forgive me for turning up alive when they thought they’d gotten their hands on it at last! Though I shouldn’t say such things, really – she turned out to be better than I’d given her credit for, when all was said and sifted. And she returned Bad End to Frodo without any fuss at all, even if she did keep the spoons.”

He stopped, looking melancholy as he generally did whenever the consequences of the Ring War came up.

“Now, now, we’ve been through this before. You can’t hold yourself responsible for everything that came of the Ring,” Elrond reminded him. “It might have been picked up by anyone after it abandoned Gollum, and nearly any of them would have been a good deal worse for both the Shire and the Bagginses, whether of Bad End or the Sackville branch.”

“I suppose,” Bilbo sighed. “It doesn’t much feel that way, though.”

“No,” Elrond agreed quietly. “But there is no going back. For either of us.”

The old hobbit was not the only Ringbearer who had cause to look back with regret.

“Yes, yes,” Bilbo exclaimed, setting off again, his pace brisk. “But set your mind at ease, I didn’t drag you out here to turn maudlin or set you thinking on the past or those we left behind! I mean to show you something, as long as you’ve a few moments to spare. I’ve no doubt your lovely wife and other relations will be looking for you once the morning gets on.”

He wagged a finger at Elrond, much as if Elrond were an errant young hobbit and not an elf who had seen three Ages of the world.

“And don’t you go fretting about that again, either. I’ll wager I’m as pleased to see you looking so cheerful as you are to see me looking less decrepit! Which is in fact related to what I wanted to show you. It’s just over this hill. Dear me, they do make them bigger here, don’t they? I usually go around it, not over it. But I thought a more direct path would save time. And to think I said I wanted to see mountains again! I’d never make it over mountain passes these days.”

“Not on foot, perhaps,” Elrond smiled. “But I’m sure they have ponies in Aman. You’ll cross the mountains if you wish.”

“Yes, about that…I have been thinking that sea air quite agrees with me. And sea bathing! Do you know I had never been sea bathing before we arrived here?” Bilbo asked cheerfully. “Hobbits aren’t much for water as a rule.”

“I am sure Frodo mentioned a ferry when he told the tale of how he left the Shire,” Elrond protested.

“You mean Bucklebury Ferry,” Bilbo sniffed dismissively. “Wooden platform hauled back and forth with ropes. Barely bigger than the barrel I once rode! I’m sure whatever ferry you were thinking of was a much grander affair. Most hobbits want nothing to do with boats.”

“What of Frodo’s parents?” Elrond asked, amused.

“The Bucklanders are the exception that proves the rule,” Bilbo sighed, waving that off. “The accident that killed poor Drogo and Primula led to a good deal of head shaking in Hobbiton at the foolishness of going boating in the first place. Though I think it might be safe enough to try an elven boat. That grey ship of Master Cirdan’s got us here quite nicely, after all. And Frodo might enjoy having a small boat of his own. He grew up in Buckland, you know. I’ve no doubt he went boating a time or two.”

The conversation petered out for a few minutes as Bilbo was puffing a bit. When they reached the top, Elrond saw that there was a small village on the other side of the hill, one of the smaller Lindarin settlements that weren’t counted part of Alqualondë proper.

The houses – and shops, Elrond supposed, for some of the buildings looked more like places of business than dwellings – were in a simple style, squared off, and several appeared to have gardens on the roof.

It being a Lindarin village, there were docks as well, but the ones Elrond could see were already empty. Fishing boats would be out to sea by now, and even small pleasure boats might well have made an early start to make the most of what promised to be a fine sunny day.

Bilbo took a moment or two to catch his breath, leaning on his walking stick, but gazing happily down at the village.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“It looks like a quiet place,” Elrond replied. “And one that likes both the sea and gardens.”

“My thoughts exactly!” Bilbo beamed. “Which is why I was thinking this might be the place for Frodo and me.”

Elrond blinked in surprise. They had not discussed it in any detail, but he had assumed that the hobbits would continue to be part of his household. Bilbo had lived in Imladris for two decades – no short time for a hobbit. Frodo would require regular attention from healers for at least the next few years, and possibly for the rest of his days.  At only fifty-three, it was expected that he had a good five or six more decades before him, even if it was anyone’s guess whether he might equal Bilbo or even the Old Took’s count.

“Come, we can speak about it on the way,” Bilbo said. “Talking on downhills I can manage easily enough!”

“I do not deny that it looks like a wholesome place, but I am somewhat surprised,” Elrond said, following, and taking care to keep close enough to catch the elderly hobbit should he stumble.

“Quite wholesome,” Bilbo nodded. “I’ve been here several times. And spoken to several of the folk as well as to King Olwë about my plan. They’re all agreeable. In fact, I hope to speak to a fellow today about making ready for us. Being a tad shorter than elves, we need a bit of work done to make even a small house comfortable for us. But I’ve managed to find both a house and a builder.”

He paused and waved with his stick.

“Look, from the houses just there you can see any ships coming in from the East. Which is part of why it occurred to me that we might stay here. Sam will be along eventually, you know. He was a Ringbearer too.”

“Ah,” Elrond said, suddenly understanding.

He had not considered that aspect of bringing the hobbits West. Of course they would expect that Samwise would join them in due time – though whether that would prove true, Elrond could not say.

“I’m old, Elrond,” Bilbo sighed. “The West may have given me a second wind, but even so, I doubt I’ll be able to carry on until Sam arrives. He’s young, and only just married. He’ll be happy in the Shire for some time to come. Whereas I’ll be quite pleased just to have enough time to poke about and talk to some of the grand folk I’ve read about – Finrod Felagund and King Fingon and the like.  But Frodo has many years in front of him yet. I want to see him settled in a place where he’ll be comfortable, and will not miss Sam’s arrival. I will be easier going off into the unknown if I can see him set up first.”

“You needn’t worry yourself about Frodo,” Elrond reassured him. “He will be honored by all elves for the rest of his days, and made welcome wherever goes.”

Bilbo sighed.

“As wise as you may be about many things, Elrond, I’m afraid you haven’t much idea what you’re talking about when it comes to this. Nor do I expect you could, really. Elves don’t die. At least, they don’t when there isn’t a bothersome Dark Lord about causing all sorts of unpleasantness! You’ll still be here when I set off on my last adventure, so you look on the matter a bit differently. No, don’t worry yourself, I’m not upset. Just…amused, I suppose.”

They reached the base of the hill, and Bilbo led the way confidently to one of the first houses. It had an entrance at ground level, but a window higher up seemed to indicate a second level. It also had a few plants in its somewhat sparse rooftop garden. To his surprise, Elrond noted that while it was built along the usual elven scale, there were two doorknobs – the second at just the right height for a hobbit’s hand.

“Ah, I see some of the work has already been done! Well, well, they don’t waste any time, do they? I’m having a dock built as well, just next to the house. It didn’t have one of its own. We can keep a boat for Frodo – at least, we can if I can convince any of the boat makers to build something small and simple enough for a hobbit who hasn’t been boating since he was young to handle.”

“What, you don’t mean to take up boating yourself?” Elrond said.

Bilbo snorted.

“My dear Elrond, there are limits to how much adventure an ancient hobbit can take,” he declared.

“After trolls, goblins, the spiders of Mirkwood, and a dragon, I shouldn’t have thought you would stick at boats,” Elrond replied, trying not to laugh.

Bilbo shook his head, but said nothing.

He knocked on the door, but there was no answer – at least not from the house.

“He’s not here yet, Master Hobbit,” a woman called from the window of the house across the way. “You’re a bit early this morning!”

“Thank you, Mistress Nillien!” Bilbo replied cheerfully. “We’ll just step up to have a look at the garden while we wait!”

She waved cheerfully, and Bilbo turned to start up the stairs between the two houses.

“My builder thinks he can do something to make these a bit easier for me,” Bilbo grunted, leaning hard on his stick as they took the stairs – fortunately, they were shorter and shallower than usual for elves and so not as difficult as normal stairs might have been for Bilbo. “But I’ve told him there’s no hurry. I can manage well enough for now. Anyway, I shan’t bother with boats. I’ll leave that to Frodo. The house is near enough to the strand that I can toddle over to cool my feet on warm days. And of course we’ll do something more up here – one really can’t call this a garden in its current state!”

Elrond smiled, for that was certainly a very hobbitish priority. They reached the top of the stairs and Bilbo waved a hand at the patch that had a few rather overgrown plants in it.

“Do you mean to grow pipeweed?” he asked mischievously.

Bilbo gave him a long look before bursting out laughing.

“You know, if I’d had any sense at all, I’d have written before we left to ask Frodo to finagle me some seeds – Longbottom Leaf, if the Hornblowers would spare me any! Alas, I didn’t think of it, so once I’ve smoked the pipeweed I brought, that’s an end to it.”

“You might ask Mithrandir before you give up your pipe,” Elrond suggested. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he thought of seeds.”

“Yes, I suppose that would be like him,” Bilbo chuckled. “But in this space, I doubt I’d manage enough for more than a month or two, unless Frodo has given up smoking or I was very sparing in the use of my pipe! It needs a somewhat larger patch for enough plants to keep a hobbit in pipeweed year-round! No, we’ll put it to more practical use. A few vegetables and perhaps some fruit. I’m told the climate is mild enough here that we can grow citrus trees! Strawberries would be very nice as well. Though I suppose we can probably do strawberries in pots…”

Bilbo trailed off as he looked around the garden, plainly musing how best to fill the space.

“No flowers?” Elrond asked.

Bilbo waved his hand.

“Not up here. I should like to put in window boxes, though – and I’m curious to discover if there are flowers that will grow on the windows that look over the sea. They’re bound to get more salt spray than the others, and I’ve never had to contend with that before. But I’m sure I’ll learn. Ah, here comes my builder now.”

Bilbo would have made his way back down, but the longer legs of elves meant that whoever he had spotted below was halfway up the stairs before Bilbo even reached them.

“Master Arinel! I’m a bit earlier than usual today, as you see – I found an accomplice to let me out of the gates practically at dawn!”

Elrond blinked.

He had been expecting one of the Lindarin elves who lived in the village. But that was most definitely his father standing at the top of the stairs, smiling slightly sheepishly.

“Good morning, Master Baggins! I suspect you couldn’t have found a better accomplice had you tried – or a more welcome one, as it happens.”

Elrond raised an eyebrow.

“Bilbo Baggins,” he said as sternly as he could manage. “Do you mean to tell me after all this time studying lore in my house, and one or two rather impertinent rhymes, you failed to recognize my father when you actually came face to face with him?”

Bilbo spluttered as Elrond turned to Eärendil.

“Arinel, indeed!” he said.

“Oh my word! But how am I to call you now?” Bilbo broke in before Elrond could attempt to scold his father. “Is Arinel a name you use, or just a travelling name, as it were?”

“More a pseudonym I adopted on the spot,” Eärendil laughed. “It’s rare to meet someone who doesn’t already know me, so I hope you don’t mind me wanting you to form your first impressions of me as just another elf! I suppose there’s not much point to continuing as Arinel now, though. Call me Eärendil – you’ll find nearly everyone does, with the exception of my mother who prefers the name she gave me.”

“You couldn’t come up with a less obvious name than ‘Morning Star’?” Elrond snorted.

“I did consider Tindomiel,” Eärendil grinned, “but I thought that a bit unfair when she isn’t here to share in the fun.”

“Yes, no doubt she’d have appreciated the joke,” Elrond sighed.

His niece had had a lively sense of humor, and he suspected she would also have been quite curious to meet both Bilbo and Frodo.

“But you can’t possibly be the builder Bilbo mentioned!”

“Why not?” Eärendil replied with a shrug. “The work he wants done is easy enough, and now that I needn’t worry that being the captain of Vingilot and the subject of his songs will put Master Baggins off, there’s one or two of my crew who would very much like to lend a hand as well. They’re rather tickled to have a hobbit for a neighbor.”

“Your crew live here?” Bilbo asked in surprise. “And here I was thinking it was just a quiet little village!”

“It is,” Eärendil laughed. “Which is why many of my crew make their homes here. We see enough on our voyages that we’re a rather sedate set ashore. You will be more excitement than Surilondë has seen in many years!”

“Oh, dear, I’m afraid if you’re hoping for excitement I shall be a disappointment,” Bilbo said fretfully. “I’m sprightlier than I’ve been since the Ring was destroyed now that I’m here in Valinor, but I’m still not likely to be dancing any jigs.”

“Believe me, Master Baggins, you needn’t be anything other than yourself to be a person of interest,” Eärendil assured him. “We’re all looking forward to hearing of your adventures from your own mouth rather than secondhand. If we want jigs, we’ll see if young Frodo can’t be persuaded to show us some Shire dances.”

“Dear me, if I’m to call you by your name, you can hardly be calling me ‘Master Baggins’ all the time. You had much better call me Bilbo. We hobbits don’t generally stand on business manners with friends and neighbors. At least, not the ones we like!”

“Very well then, Bilbo!” Eärendil said merrily. “As to our little renovation project, I have spoken to some stonemasons – who are not on my crew, but have taken an interest all the same – about having some blocks cut to turn one half of the stairway here into something a bit less troublesome for you. The stairs will remain as they are on Nillien’s side. But from the middle over to your doorway, there will be a section of ramp, then a broader section where you may take a rest on the way up, then another section of ramp.”

Bilbo’s face lit up.

“Oh, I say, you think of everything, don’t you? And I was happy just to get a bit of a step so I’d be able to manage getting into the garden easier!”

“Like father, like son, I suppose,” he added with a sly glance at Elrond.

“I suspect Elrond is better acquainted with your foibles,” Eärendil laughed. “But I am learning. And happy for the opportunity to do so! Now, what do you two say to a spot of breakfast?”

Elrond might have demurred, but he knew perfectly well that no hobbit would say not to such a question.

“My dear fellow!” Bilbo exclaimed. “I say yes – but will we be keeping Elrond longer than we ought?”

Eärendil looked a bit thrown, but Elrond laughed at the incongruity of the question.

“I suspect my father has as good a claim on my time as any who might be waiting back at Olwë’s house, Bilbo,” he chuckled. “So let’s have that breakfast and then go over whatever other tasks you had in mind for him and his accomplices. And for me, I suspect.”

---

It was two weeks later that Elrond found himself taking the same walk. This time they set out later in the morning, and in a somewhat larger company. Both Celebrían and his mother were intensely curious to find out what he and his father had been up to every morning since Bilbo first took him on a walk – though surprisingly no one seemed to have connected their absences to Bilbo.

He now also had some idea of what Bilbo must have been like those last few days in the Shire before his birthday party and disappearance. (If he had been in any doubt, the fact that Frodo had recognized the signs as well and was full of questions which Bilbo was doing his best to innocuously deflect would have been confirmation enough.) Bilbo’s excitement was contagious – Glorfindel, Galadriel, and Erestor had all been drawn in.

But it was not just their own little circle – King Olwë and Queen Súyelírë had also joined them, along with their sons, Queen Eärwen, Finrod Felagund and his beloved Amarië, and their children. In short, the two hobbits had quite a royal escort for their moving-in. Their trunks had been sent by water the evening before – though Frodo wasn’t aware of it, thanks to some connivance by Olwë’s household staff, who had him firmly convinced that with the exception of what he was currently wearing, his clothes were all being aired and washed.

Their little walking party was quite merry. Frodo had initially wondered at so many people carrying baskets, but it had been explained away as a picnic – early lunch for the elves or second breakfast for the hobbits. Given how Bilbo was chattering away with Finrod, Frodo might well have been lulled into thinking that Bilbo’s excitement had merely been about getting to talk to famed First Age hero at long last.

Elrond was curious to see what housewarming presents the rest of the party thought appropriate for the two hobbits. He himself had taken some delight in procuring a variety of strawberry plant unknown to the Shire but thought very highly of by the Lindar. If managed properly, the Bagginses would have strawberries nearly year-round. (He could only hope Celebrían would not look too surprised when Bilbo thanked them both.)

Celebrían had given him the amused look that said she knew he was up to something even if she didn’t know what more than once since they set out. But she was content to simply enjoy the scenery and company until they reached the hill. Elrond had proposed taking the longer route around, but Bilbo had been quite insistent that this was really the way he wanted to go – ‘the view, my dear Elrond, the view!’

“Surely this hill is a bit much for Bilbo?” Celebrían protested. “There is no reason we could not go around.”

“Please, do not trouble yourself on my account!” Bilbo piped up at once. “As I told your husband, I may have difficulty talking on the way up, but the panorama is quite worth the effort!”

Celebrían’s look sharpened somewhat as she regarded said husband, but she desisted.

“Oh!” Frodo exclaimed.

There was nothing wrong with his legs, and he had reached the top of the hill well before the rest of the party, who had lagged behind with Bilbo.

“You are quite right, uncle,” he called.

It cost Bilbo some effort, but he quickened his pace to join Frodo faster.

“There, you see?” he beamed, puffing a bit as he got his breath back.

“The sea, the hills…” Frodo trailed off. “It’s marvelous. Though I’m not sure it was worth you going to so much trouble – we may have to carry you back!”

“Stuff and nonsense,” Bilbo grumbled. “This isn’t the first time I’ve climbed this hill, and I’ve always managed to get back on my own two feet. Master Elrond can vouch for that.”

“Indeed I can,” Elrond said. “Though I would also say that we could take a bit of a rest soon and let you sit a while.”

Bilbo’s grin told him he’d gone in the right direction.

“That is an idea,” the elderly hobbit exclaimed. “And I know just the place!”

He waved with his stick toward the village.

“Come, Frodo my lad.”

Frodo was quick to offer Bilbo a hand for the downhill.

“The village seems like a homely place,” he said. “Is this where you’ve been sneaking off to every morning?”

Bilbo laughed.

“Not every morning. I did get to know more of the area than just this one village, lovely as it may be!”

Eärendil chuckled.

“He found his way to my house a time or two, Master Frodo, as my wine cellar and larder can attest.”

Frodo blinked at the slayer of Ancalagon the Black in purest astonishment.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” he sighed.

“Cheer up, he’s actually quite fond of my verse,” Bilbo told his nephew. “And he’s been helping me with a project.”

“Are you writing another book?” Frodo asked cautiously.

“In time, perhaps,” Bilbo replied. “Especially if I continue to have so many friends calling and talking over such fascinating bits of history. But this particular project is closer to home, as it were. Welcome, lords and ladies, to Bag End!”

He gestured with a flourish to the door of the house.

The two doorknobs were no longer the only giveaway that this was a hobbit’s home. The garden was much less sparse – though Elrond was relieved to note there was still space for a few more plants. There were pots with dwarf fruit trees by the door, and window boxes that promised flowers soon.

The stairs had been modified as Eärendil had promised, and the landing halfway up had a bench perfect for a hobbit who needed to sit and think for a moment or two. The shutters on the windows were no longer blue, but a cheerful bright green that was apparently a perfect match to the door of the original Bag End.

“I do apologize to any who were under the impression we would have a picnic,” Bilbo added, glancing in Frodo’s direction. “But I hope you will all stay for luncheon – at least, we will call it luncheon if Frodo will agree to forego second breakfast this once!”

Frodo was too busy gazing at the house in astonishment to make any objection.

“Do come in,” Bilbo encouraged them. “It may be a bit tight in the sitting room – this is a bit less roomy than Bag End in Hobbiton was, but I don’t think we are too many!”

“Have no fear, I made sure there would be seating enough for all, though I didn’t expect quite so large a party,” Eärendil added reassuringly.

Frodo shook his head, torn between looking all over at the house.

“Really, Bilbo, ‘Bag End’?” he said at last.

“I did have quite a think, but I eventually concluded that there was no improving on it,” Bilbo replied cheerfully. “Nothing else was as satisfying to say! Though I did seriously consider ‘Second Wind’ as well.”

“Second Wind might have been fitting,” King Olwë offered, “for a house in Windhaven.”

“Yes, but I’ve found mentions of mortality tends to bother many of my elven friends,” Bilbo replied. “So I thought it better to stick with the tried and true. Do sit down, won’t you!”

He beamed as his guests took up seats here and there around the room. They were a seat or two short, but neither of Finrod’s youngest sons seemed to mind sitting on the floor – and both insisted Bilbo not think of giving up his own chair for them.

“I did mean it when I said there would be places enough for all,” Eärendil chided them, and disappeared only to return a few moments later with a pair of folding chairs for the lads.

“Now, Master Baggins, I understand that it is a hobbitish tradition to give gifts on their birthdays, but on the occasion of setting up a house, I am told others give gifts to the new householder,” King Olwë began.

“Oh, please don’t trouble yourself!” Bilbo said at once. “Really, being given leave to live in your kingdom is quite gift enough.”

“I’m afraid it would not sit right with me not to give you a proper welcome,” Olwë replied, his eyes twinkling. “To that end, you’ll find a boat tied to your dock, which can be managed by a hobbit but hold several elves as well, should you wish to take some friends out on the water with you. I believe you can see it from the window just there.”

Frodo beat Bilbo to the window, and all but crowed with delight.

“The bay here is usually quite placid,” Queen Súyelírë told Frodo. “But you would still do well to have one of your neighbors go out with you the first few times, until you develop a feel for these waters.”

“I shall!” Frodo beamed. “Thank you for both the boat and the good advice!”

The present from the king and queen of the Lindar was only the first. Their sons had discovered that both Bilbo and Frodo were fond of maps, and presented them with a collection of maps of Surilondë and its environs.

Eärendil and Elwing had given the orange and lemon trees by the front door. (Which Bilbo felt obliged to protest, given how much work Eärendil had already done. He was only somewhat mollified by the thought that Eärendil would consider them even after a jar of orange marmalade or a lemon tart.)

Galadriel’s gift was a wide variety of seeds from Tirion and Valimar for the garden, nearly all of them new to both hobbits. Her mother had a blanket for each of the hobbits, warm enough to keep Bilbo from any chance of chill but light enough to pack easily for boating trips. Erestor had selected several books to expand Bilbo’s library, with an eye on Amanyar history that Bilbo would not have previously read. Glorfindel had a portrait he had commissioned in Imladris of Bilbo and the four hobbits of the Fellowship as they had been preparing to set out on the quest to Mount Doom. Finrod and Amarië, less familiar with the hobbits save by reputation, gave them a book of recipes popular in both Tirion and Alqualondë, and each of their children had brought a vegetable or herb plant for the garden.

Bilbo proved less flummoxed by so many thoughtfully chosen gifts than by the sight of Finrod Felagund and his sons rolling up their sleeves to help prepare the midday meal in his newly fitted out kitchen - though he recovered well enough to give Finrod a lecture on the proper preparation of seed cakes before very long.

Lunch was a merry affair, with a variety of elven and hobbitish dishes. Bilbo was dissuaded from trying to do all the cleaning up himself only by Frodo and Finrod’s youngest boy threatening to improvise new verses to Chip the glasses, crack the plates – at which Glorfindel and Erestor promptly indulged the company with a rendition of the original. (It was difficult to say who was most delighted by these proceedings, Finrod or his grandparents.)

After that, nothing would do but for Bilbo to show everyone around the house, and point out all the clever ways Eärendil and his helpers had improved the house to make it comfortable for hobbits as well as for their guests. He managed to work in quite a few anecdotes about his time in Imladris, and Elrond noted both his mother and his wife appeared to be filing several of them away to ask about later.

The tour inevitably wound up in the garden, where they were joined by Eärendil’s friend Nillien, now Bilbo’s next-door neighbor, who brought over a pitcher of lemonade and a trio of lavender plants. Bilbo was delighted, and keen to get them in the ground until Frodo suggested they would also do nicely in pots near the front door or by the bench on the stairs.

Nillien smiled and left the hobbits to what promised to be a fine debate about where best to put their new plants, and at her departure, other guests also began to make their farewells. Galadriel, Finrod, and their grandparents departed in a group, intending to walk back to Alqualondë along the shoreline. Eärwen and her brothers were returning by boat. Erestor and Glorfindel intended to head inland to visit a friend of Glorfindel’s who lived nearby.

Before long, Elrond found it was just himself, Celebrían, his parents, and the two hobbits.

“Well, I think that went splendidly, don’t you?” Bilbo beamed.

The question seemed to be directed primarily to Elrond and Eärendil, but it was Frodo who answered.

“It did indeed,” he agreed. “I still can’t quite believe you managed to come up with a house and me none the wiser! But I’d like to make a request. This was a bit less dramatic than your eleventy-first, but if this is what you do for no occasion in particular, I’d like to be excused any surprises for our birthday this year!”