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Mariner's Son

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Bilbo was asleep in a chair by the fire when Elrond returned to his chambers, curled up on a seat that was too high and wide for him. In sleep, without the animation that drove him while awake, his face showed all the age Elrond had denied these past seventeen years. Only when confronted with Bilbo's cousin Frodo, himself the age Bilbo had been when Bilbo and Elrond had first met, had Elrond seen the changes in his mortal friend.

Elrond walked forward as silently as only elf--or hobbit--could, seating himself on the footstool at Bilbo's feet. The hobbit's hair was more white than brown, he realized, his face lined with age despite the preserving power of the great ring. He slept more than he did only a few years before, missing meals and songs and stories in favor of naps and deep thought. His hand--Elrond stretched forth a hand and touched a single finger to its back--was too thin for a hobbit, almost elf-like.

Bilbo blinked and woke at his touch. "Master Elrond?"

"Dear Bilbo." Elrond smiled and hid his morbid concerns. "You told me once that the beds of Rivendell were the best in Middle-Earth; why then do you eschew them for my chairs?"

"Are you angry with me?" Bilbo asked abruptly, worry and guilt clear in his voice.

The question confused Elrond. "For sleeping in chairs?" he asked, knowing such was not the truth but at a loss to know any other cause.

"For singing that song." The hobbit ducked his head. "The Dunadan called it cheek to sing of Earendil in your house."

Anger kindled in Elrond's breast, but not at Bilbo. "Aragorn is not the master of Rivendell," he snapped. "Nor is it his place to say what is sung here." Bilbo drew away slightly and Elrond cursed his temper. "Forgive me, dear Bilbo, I am not angry at you." Few sang of the mariner in his presence, but he would rather hear a thousand such songs than disturb Bilbo's peace or trammel his free spirit, nor would he thank Aragorn for causing the hobbit distress.

Bilbo looked confused. "Why--" He cut himself off even more abruptly. "Forgive me."

"Why should you not sing of the--of Earendil?" he completed Bilbo's question for him. "And Elwing," he added softly, sadly. A hundred years or more had passed since last he spoke those names. Bilbo nodded mutely. "Tell me, what do you know of the mariner?"

Bilbo shrugged. "Little more than I put in my song, and even then it was the Dunadan who bade me put in the green stone, though I do not know why."

Elrond nodded. "So I thought, for the stone was no emerald." A beryl--the color of the sea breaking on the shore. He could remember, dimly, staring at the stone and hating it and the sea alike. "Do you know that he had sons?"

Bilbo nodded slowly. "I suppose I did. Elros, the father of Aragorn's line, and--" He broke off again and Elrond smiled at his expression. "He was your father," Bilbo said, something uncomfortably akin to awe in his tone. "Earendil was your father."

Elrond nodded. "My father," he agreed. "He was a great mariner, a true hero to both Men and Elves--but a poor father." He snorted. "I know of no song that speaks much of his sons, left captive while he sailed to Valinor, nor the long years before when, as we grew, we saw him only when the most bitter of winter storms forced him ashore."

The awe was gone from Bilbo's face, replaced with understanding and sympathy. "I'm sorry I sang of him," he said, taking Elrond's hand and stroking it gently. "To me Earendil was only a legend, a story. No one will ever sing songs of my parents, but at least they were always there for me."

"Perhaps if more songs were written about the small people of the world, the good parents and careful husbands, Middle-Earth would be a better place," Elrond said. Indeed the hobbit's greatest gift was his ability to treat king and chambermaid with equal courtesy, never realizing that king might welcome it even more than maid.

Bilbo laughed. "If all the people of Middle-Earth were hobbits we would be hard pressed by trolls and orcs and other evil creatures."

Elrond laughed as well. "Trust hobbit-sense to put all in perspective!" He stood, retaining Bilbo's hand. "Will you come to bed now, Master Bilbo? For we have council tomorrow morning."