Speak Again

fanfiction by Wild Iris


Bilbo Baggins had found a tranquil spot in which to spend the daylight hours at Rivendell. His writing table had been set up on a sheltered terrace. Flowering vines, which breathed a delicate sweetness, covered the surrounding walls. This setting had lent him greater calm of spirit and clarity of mind, and his book of memoirs had progressed splendidly, until it was almost complete. Rivendell had seemed to the fragile Hobbit the embodiment of security, beauty and peace: the solid stonework of the house behind, the valley of the Bruinen spread below, and the ceaseless energy of the falls a restful susurration around his thoughts.

Transcribing his adventures, he had been living in memory. Mirkwood; the Long Lake; the slopes of the Lonely Mountain. His Dwarf companions, somehow as feisty wandering, starved, as they were when drinking and hard fighting. And, of course, Gandalf, whose gentle yet somehow inexorable influence had first shaken Bilbo from his comfortable routine and shown him some of the world's myriad pathways.

The pull of the Ring had alternately ebbed and sharpened during his time at Rivendell. The task of writing absorbed much of his energy, and he was influenced, too, by the relative calm of the Elves, whose desires lack the urgency of those of mortals. Yet, while writing he also relived a host of memories concerning the Ring. He recalled with bright clarity the circumstances of his finding it, and how that discovery had by chance saved him in Gollum's deadly game of riddles. Clearer still, he remembered using the Ring's gift of invisibility to free his comrades from the dungeons of the Elvenking of Mirkwood. He remembered the pride of that moment, the feeling, even, of being the first Hobbit of consequence in the world.

The Ring. For decades, Bilbo had thought of the thing as a useful tool, a magical trinket that had come unexpectedly into his life and that could be enjoyed as a gift from fate. When his settled life at Bag End had resumed, and he no longer had need to hide from enemies, he had on occasion turned himself invisible as a light-hearted party trick. Only at parting had he realized how deep and knotted his attachment to the Ring had become. His struggle to leave it behind was beyond addiction; it was like trying to discard some piece of himself that made him uniquely Bilbo.

Now there were no more illusions about the Ring, and his hunger for it lay exposed not as some aberrant impulse of greed but as a desire that skated along the borders of evil. He had been working as usual when Frodo had been borne into the house, that terrible freezing wound upon his cousin's breast and his hands clawed and stiff as if in death. That abrupt awakening had been shattering. Even after his fear for Frodo's life had given way to joy at his recovery, Bilbo remained in a state of agitation, scarcely able to grasp the burden he had inadvertently placed on his unworldly younger kinsman. The One Ring. He had held the One Ring in his hand, had his mind wound about by its silken call, carried unwittingly an engine of tyrannical power. And by bequeathing it to Frodo, he had sent murder at his cousin's heels. Now Frodo, still fragile, was to risk his life again of his own will, on a journey more fraught with traps than any Bilbo had undertaken.

Perhaps the most terrible part of these revelations was that they affected Bilbo's craving for the Ring not at all.

He sat on the terrace, drawing some comfort from its view of lucid sunlight and tumbling water. Preparations were underway throughout Rivendell for the newly minted Fellowship's expedition to Mordor. Aside from visits to Frodo and the other Hobbits, Bilbo remained largely apart from the bustle, choosing to spend the days alone with his thoughts. Sometimes he wondered whether he were escaping troubles or punishing himself by this solitude.

As he gazed out, an Elven figure appeared on the path below the terrace. Bilbo recognized the envoy from Mirkwood, Legolas, who was to be one of Frodo's companions on the journey to destroy the Ring. The slender prince was dressed in travelling clothes and bore a longbow and quiver on his back. He had been practising his aim, Bilbo guessed, among the trees that bordered the river.

The Elf turned his head, as if hearing the soft rustle of linen as Bilbo sat up straighter, even above the tumult of the falls. "Good day, Mr Baggins," he said, and bowed. "I congratulate you; you seem to have found the most peaceful nook in Imladris in which to work."

"Actually, my work is almost done," said Bilbo. He smiled and paused, as if expecting the Elf to pass onward. But the sight of Legolas was reawakening memories of Mirkwood, memories that Bilbo could share with few others, and Bilbo abruptly no longer wanted to be alone. "Is the house so frantic?" he added.

"Only nine in the Ringbearer's party, but turmoil enough for thrice that number," Legolas smiled.

"Such is the way, sir, when Hobbits are about," Bilbo said. "We may cause little stir in the world without, but a great deal within." He chuckled.

"Your kin may yet cause much stir in the world," said the Elf. "Besides," he continued, "this turmoil is not only the doing of Hobbits. Lord Elrond readies his people to stand against Shadow."

"Yes," Bilbo murmured. For a moment he felt that he could hear the Ring calling to its master through the walls of Rivendell, even as it called to him.

Legolas stepped lightly up to the terrace and sat beside Bilbo, laying down his bow. "You are troubled," he said. "What would aid you?"

Bilbo stared at the falls before replying, his hands clenched on his cane. "I am an old Hobbit," he said finally. "So much of this is due to my mistake, and I am too old now to help to put it right. Frodo pays in my stead."

"For what do you blame yourself?"

"I had the Ring," said Bilbo. "I found it. I should have known."

"But you did not." The Elf looked steadily into Bilbo's eyes. "It may become a legend among my people, that the One Ring passed unknown through Mirkwood. Some may wonder, just as you, what might have happened had it been recognized sooner. But such wondering serves naught."

"If I had never picked it up – " Bilbo said.

"Then it might have been found by one who used it for evil," said Legolas. "Remember Mithrandir," he added with a smile, "who maintains that there is purpose in all events."

"I did use it," Bilbo said, "for some things that seemed good. I used it to help my friends. They were – " He broke off, and blushed.

"This week has certainly solved one mystery," said Legolas, smiling, "concerning the escape from Mirkwood of certain intrepid Dwarves."

Bilbo chuckled, hesitantly, in response. " I suppose it's quite a funny story, looking back," he said. "Never imagined the Elves would find it funny, though."

"Not the elders of Mirkwood," Legolas said, "nor, I fear, the Dwarves. But all tales of daring should be applauded, even if they end with the whisking of prisoners from under one's own nose."

"I wanted to visit Mirkwood again," said Bilbo. "But I am too old. If I made it that far, I would probably end up breakfast for a spider."

"The spiders are still numerous," said Legolas, "especially in the outlying stretches of the forest. The worst affliction, though, is Orcs. They have become ever thicker since Shadow is re-arisen, and raid ever deeper into our lands."

"Life must be perilous," said Bilbo.

"It can be," agreed the Elf. "Yet even that has its advantage. Danger hones the skills of our archers and spearmen. If Mordor assails the free peoples, Mirkwood will be ready to help bear the assault."

"My friends, the Dwarves, were captured by Elven bowmen," said Bilbo. "I remember that the Wood-Elves came on us silently, and that their hands and eyes never wavered. They must be formidable warriors."

Legolas nodded. With deft hands, he took up his bow and began to unstring it. "Elves fight well," he said. "Ilúvatar gave us many gifts that aid in war. Yet remember that a Hobbit bested them still." His voice dipped with meaning. Bilbo understood that he was meant to take comfort, and did so. Frodo too was a Hobbit, with whatever qualities that implied, and, like Bilbo, he would have sturdy companions for his adventure.

" I suppose a Hobbit might be able to best anyone," he said. He gazed across at the Elf, at his calm, intent face and the economical movements of his hands as he tended to the bow. "All the same, I'm glad that you are going with him."

"Thank you," said Legolas. "I will do everything to protect the Ringbearer that it lies in my power to do."

The Elf rose and swung his bow and quiver on to his back. "Do not be troubled unduly," he said. "Whatever actions you have done or wish undone, your path has also led you to the peace of Imladris. Your rest from strife is earned."

Bilbo settled back in his seat. He was silent for some long moments, while the Elf waited, poised to move on. "I could never have accompanied him," he said at last. "Even when I was younger and stronger. The Ring – it cries out to me. I never heard its voice when I possessed it, but it's been in my heart and in my dreams every night since I left the Shire. If I was with Frodo on his journey, I know I would not last five minutes. I might betray the company; I might hurt my dear boy."

Legolas touched the Hobbit gently on the shoulder. "It is good to recognize your weaknesses, as well as your strengths," he said. "You may do many things that others cannot. But this is something Frodo may do. His lacks strength in arms, but there is," he laughed lightly, "sufficient muscle in our party as it stands. His strength is in his courage and his will. His resistance to the Ring has already been remarked upon by many. You must know these qualities, for you helped shape them. Do not torment yourself by fearing him frail. So are we all, in differing ways."

"So we are," Bilbo said. He paused. "I should get back to work."

"I will cease to disturb you," said the Elf. "Fare you well, Mr Baggins. May we meet again, in your home if not in mine. I only regret that you cannot visit Mirkwood again, and experience the hospitality we give outside its dungeons."

Bilbo grinned. "The first visit, looking back, is not an experience I would wish away."

"I am glad," said Legolas. "I, too, hope to see the trees once more."

The Elf walked into the house. Left alone, Bilbo picked up his manuscript and turned to the chapters concerning Mirkwood. They would have to be amended, he noticed. The Ring, central to the story of his and the Dwarves' flight, was yet only a fortuitously found trinket. It would it be more accurate to restore it to its true identity.

And yet... the tale had a pleasing shape, a circular path summed up in its title, There and Back Again. To introduce the One Ring would ruin that no end, since in no manner could its history be resolved within the scope of Bilbo's book. It would be an impossible complication.

I will let it go, Bilbo thought. My own travels are only a small chapter in this adventure. Frodo will live the rest, and someone else will write it. The Ring still wails at me, and it might well drive me mad. But I must stop thinking of it as mine to dispose of.

Over the next few hours, he wrote the final paragraphs of his book. The last page was sealed with an ornate divider motif and, below that, his signature. Bilbo took a deep breath. Slowly, he closed the pages. There was still much blank paper on the table, and almost half a bottle of ink. He intended to make another copy, which he would present to Lord Elrond, as thanks for his hospitality.

Bilbo leaned back, drowsily. The falls of the Bruinen continued to churn water into light.