Besides these four persons--Rosie, Sam, Merry, and Pippin--Frodo had told no one. He'd prefer to slip away quietly, without drawing attention. Hobbiton, after all, had seen the last of Bilbo Baggins more than seven years ago, and most of the old hobbit's relatives considered him long dead already. If anyone had known that Bilbo was in the back of the covered cart that stopped at the stableyard near the Green Dragon early the next morning, or that the inconspicuously cloaked and hooded old Man driving was actually the wizard Gandalf, there would have been much excitement, curiosity, and delay. Frodo was sorry not to say goodbye to some of his friends and relatives, but he thought he would feel very silly if, after he'd made a grand farewell, he were to return home again as if nothing had happened.
Frodo and his companions were waiting outside the stables on their own ponies to meet the cart, then they all continued on to the Great Road, heading west. It wasn't until they'd gone several miles from Hobbiton that they stopped again for more enthusiastic greetings, and Frodo got into the cart to ride with Bilbo. Conversation was difficult, for Bilbo's wits were sadly wandering. While Bilbo was eager to hear all of Frodo's news, he seemed to forget his questions before Frodo had finished answering them, and moved on to new questions that bore no relation to the last. At intervals, he dozed, then awoke to begin all over again.
"What did happen to it?"
Frodo held his breath and felt his stomach clench at this abrupt question. Uncle Bilbo had asked him about the Ring once already. The old hobbit didn't seem to understand what his old magic ring really was, or what had become of it, although he'd heard the tale many times. This morning when the subject had come up, Frodo had simply told his uncle that the Ring was lost; Bilbo was disappointed to hear it, but now he seemed even to forget that. Would he keep asking about it over and over again on their journey? Frodo didn't see how he could bear that. The thought of the Ring's destruction brought a sharp little stab to his heart, and Bilbo's questions made him feel the pain of anew.
"Happened to what, Uncle?" he asked patiently.
So it wasn't the Ring after all! Frodo let out his breath in a sigh of relief, but he was puzzled. "Do you mean Strider?"
His uncle looked up at him, just as bewildered. "What's Aragorn got to do with it?"
"You just said his name, Uncle. One of them."
Bilbo chuckled. "He has so many, my boy. How can we remember them all?"
For that moment, Bilbo seemed so much like his old self that Frodo was encouraged to ask him, "What Elessar did you mean, Uncle Bilbo, if not Aragorn?"
But Bilbo's moment of lucidity was gone. "Does he have it, I wonder? Did it go over the Sea, or not?" he murmured, more to himself than to Frodo, and shut his eyes. He drifted back into his dreams.
While Bilbo napped, Frodo climbed up into the front of the cart to sit beside Gandalf. Sam was riding his pony off to their right, with Frodo's pony tethered and trotting behind, while Merry and Pippin went on ahead. "I think," Frodo said softly, "that it's past time for Uncle Bilbo to go. He would better have gone last autumn."
"And you, Frodo?" asked Gandalf.
"I couldn't go, not in September. I was busy with a private investigation. And in October too." Frodo looked up at the wizard. "I'm sorry I made you wait so long for me, and made Uncle Bilbo wait too. He will be healed, won't he? He'll be as clever again as he once was? I can't understand what he's saying half the time--it makes no sense. Gandalf," he ventured, "what is Elessar, besides the name Arwen calls Strider? Bilbo called it out just a few minutes ago."
"Yes, I heard him. He has spoken of it before. It appears to be much on his mind."
"What is it?"
"There were two famous gemstones among Elven-kind which bore that name," Gandalf answered. "The first was a shining star carried by the mariner Earendil on all his journeys over the Sea. It is said that he bore it with him on his final voyage to the Undying Lands. The other belonged to the Lady Galadriel. She gave it to Aragorn when he was last in Lothlorien, when you were there, Frodo. You've seen it."
"Yes," Frodo recalled the gifts the Lady had given the Fellowship at their parting from Lothlorien, He hadn't seen her bestow any gem upon Aragorn then, for Aragorn and Galadriel had had many private conferences during the days before their departure, but he'd seen the large green gemstone later, when Aragorn had worn it on his breast at his coronation. Aragorn had also officially taken the name Elessar to rule under on that day. "I didn't know that was its name too. But, Gandalf, both gemstones are accounted for. What's Uncle Bilbo talking about when he asks what happened to it? What does he mean?"
"Some tales say that Earendil took his Elessar away with him," Gandalf repeated. "But there are others that claim he didn't keep it when he sailed for the Undying Lands, but left it behind in the hands of his heirs, in case they had need of it. It may still be here on Middle Earth."
"Why does Uncle Bilbo fret over it so?" Frodo asked.
"The last poem he was writing before such tasks grew too much for him was of Earendil's Elessar. You know what a poet he was, and a great scholar of Elven lore. Bilbo sought all the tales he could find in Lord Elrond's libraries. He must have come upon those that say the Elessar remains on Middle Earth, and the thought of it remains with him still."
They both heard soft snorting sounds from the back of the cart as Bilbo woke again. "Frodo?" the old hobbit called out. "Where's the boy gone?"
"Here Uncle!" Frodo responded, and went back to join him.
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