Imladris was quiet with most of its folk gone, and Bilbo found himself more sleepy than ever, these days. He sat often in the library, at a desk by the window, by turns dozing, looking out at the rushing water, and writing poems, line by slow line, in his book.
As a dark figure, one with sad eyes and long black curls, clad sombrely in grey robes, set foot into the library, once again the pen slipped from Bilbo's hand onto the page, threatening to spill its ink over carefully-written words. The Elf reached for the pen quickly, moving it out of the way and back into its allotted groove, where it could do no harm.
He laid a hand on Bilbo's shoulder. "Dreaming?" he asked, sinking into a chair next to Bilbo's desk. Bilbo started and stirred, eyes blinking.
"Master Maglor, I didn't think to see you back again!" he exclaimed in delight. "It's been a fair few years, you know, and I thought you'd be off wandering the shores of the world once more, now that the Shadow has passed."
"I would have," Maglor said, "but that I heard Elrond's voice in a dream. Where is he? Where is everyone? For you are the first person I have seen today, which is strange. I came in last night, in a rainstorm, and the border guards merely waved me through, as though they hadn't a care in the world and there was no danger left in Middle-earth."
Bilbo smiled. "I understand there's been a wedding," he said. "They're all away in the Southlands, where the Dúnadan has at last come into his own, and the Lady Arwen has gone to wed him."
"Oh," Maglor said thoughtfully. "I begin to see. She has made the choice of Elros, and will join the Race of Men. She will someday die, and Elrond grieves."
"The choice of Lúthien is how Master Elrond spoke of it to me," Bilbo said. "The name of Elros, brother to Elrond though he was, hardly ever leaves his lips."
"She was the first to choose her own fate, that is true," Maglor said. "But for Elrond, I think that his brother's choice is nearer to his heart, and is the reason why he called out to me, two nights ago."
Bilbo nodded, and they both looked out of the window at the rushing river that raced down below. The leaves were beginning to turn golden. Autumn was on the way, and the earlier rainstorm had left the trees dripping, though the sun was casting down a warm late afternoon light.
After a moment, Bilbo let out a sudden exclamation and sat up. "I've just remembered!" he said. "In three days' time, it will be my birthday. I'll be one year away from equalling the Old Took. I should like to beat him, if I am spared long enough."
"Why?" Maglor asked flatly. Sorrow lingered on his face, mingled with curiosity.
Bilbo turned to look at Maglor and his eyes were bright and sparkling for a moment, the eyes of someone much younger. "Why, for the sheer fun of it, my lad," he said. "And then will follow another adventure at last - one I have long waited for."
"Death, to you, is an adventure?" Maglor folded his arms and looked at Bilbo solemnly. "I do not think many mortals feel this way."
"I suspect, from all I've heard of him, that Elros did," Bilbo said, eyes twinkling. "Yes, an adventure! Into the unknown, facing the impossible."
"It sounds like venturing oversea into the West, to me," Maglor said. "Facing the impossible? Facing judgement, perhaps?"
"Perhaps," Bilbo said. "There are traditions which hold that we are judged for what we have done in life, but what is there to fear from judgement?"
Maglor laughed, a little bitterly. "So speaks one who has never committed any wrong to be ashamed of." He sighed. "I fear the Lords of the West will not even let me into that land, much less allow me the freedom of it."
"Have you ever tried, or even asked?" Bilbo said.
Maglor put his head back against the chair, looking upward. "At the end of what you call the Elder Days, I was summoned, but you know that tale, and now what ship is there to bear me back? The Great Sea is wide, and full of peril." He brought his head back down and met Bilbo's eyes. "And even if I should make it back, what awaits me? Would the Teleri welcome me? Would my uncle, on the throne that was once my grandfather's, see fit to allow me leave to dwell in Tirion? Would even my mother take me in, a thrice-accursed Kinslayer?"
"If your mother is even half as wise as mine was, she would never turn her son away from her door," Bilbo said. "And even if that were to be true, there is one who will speak for you, and that is the one who asked you to come here. Master Elrond has lost so many - mother, father, brother, friends, King, wife, and now daughter - so let yourself be someone that he does not lose."
"Would he not rather be rid of me, though? For I am none of these, and distant kin only. I am captor, murderer, and thief, hardly deserving of pity any more than the Gollum-creature in your tales. And I do not wish for pity!"
Bilbo fiddled with the pen in its groove for a moment before he answered, thoughtful. "You should not scorn pity that is the gift of a kind heart," he said. "And I do not know how he came by it -" he gave Maglor a pointed look, "- but Elrond has ever been as kind as summer. And yet, he does not pity you. He loves you."
Maglor's hands dropped into his lap as if he had forgotten they were there. "Loves me," he said in a tone of wonder. "Loves me?" And then, "You speak very bold for one who has only known us a few years, Master Baggins!"
"I too have a son not of my own blood," Bilbo pointed out. "These things are no different between Elves and Men and Hobbits. Nor between Dwarves either, come to think of it, as I recall how Fili and Kili died with and for Thorin. Take it from me, sure as Frodo loves me, Elrond loves you."
"I -, " Maglor gave a helpless shrug and lapsed into silence. Bilbo took up his pen and scribbled down a few more words.
"What are you writing?" Maglor asked at last, once Bilbo laid the pen down again, a look of frustration on his face.
"This poem," Bilbo said, turning the book so Maglor could see it. "It comes to me in fits and snatches, in dreams and in silent hours. It haunts me strangely, like a voice calling me which I cannot quite hear."
"Shadows long before me lie / beneath the ever-bending sky," Maglor read out softly.
"But islands lie behind the Sun / that I shall raise ere all is done," Bilbo's voice joined his. "I haven't been able to get any further than that. Dim and far those islands wait for me, and there are lands beyond them, lands that I must see."
"If you were an elf of my kin, we would call that sea-longing, for it is not the Sea that we long for - that is only a symbol - but the lands beyond. And yet you cannot come there, any more than I can."
"Do you feel this longing too, then?" Bilbo asked.
"I have felt it every day that I have walked this Hither Shore since I cast away my father's jewel and forswore my Oath," Maglor answered.
"Then maybe it is a sign," Bilbo said. "Maybe it is a summons. Maybe you should heed it."
Maglor sank back in his chair. "I wish for neither judgment nor pity," he said, "and I fear both."
"What of pardon and love, though?" Bilbo asked. "For if Frodo came to me, having done some deed no matter how ill, in sincere regret and grief, I would neither judge him nor pity him, but forgive him and love him."
Maglor did not speak, and finally Bilbo spoke again. "It is the pride of the Elves, is it not, to scorn all offered you in favour of self-destruction by the slow workings of years? Will you take Gollum's path, then, and we shall see you thousands of years hence, a shrivelled thing creeping along the shoreline, wailing?"
"No!" Maglor said, and his voice caught somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "No." He paused to gather himself. "If Elrond wishes it, I shall not leave again, save by his side, Westward bound."