Title: Through Other Eyes
Theme: One picture is worth a thousand words
Elements: Picture posted at end of story
Author's Notes: Notes at end
Summary: Bilbo was never seen in the Shire again, but with Aragorn’s help, he can still see the Shire.
Word Count: 1000 exactly
The city was drawn in charcoal and pastel, as faint as a distant dream. "I wonder where it is," Bilbo murmured, as his fingers ghosted over the pale towers. "No," he breathed in sudden understanding, for the sense of loss in those lines was palpable. "I wonder where it was."
He laid the book down on his lap, and sat awhile, thoughts wandering. Above him, carved traceries made shadow-patterns in the sunlight. Flowers twined through the railings, and the wall behind him was smooth and cool.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs, and Bilbo half started up, then settled back down with a laugh of delight. "Dunadan! You're back!" But Aragorn's eyes were shadowed and his face was etched with lines. Bilbo's smile faltered. "You've been..."
"In the north and in the east," Aragorn said, "in the wilds, and beyond them. But it is over now." He smiled, but the lines did not soften, or not by much.
Bilbo patted the stone bench. "Sit down, sit down."
Aragorn did so wearily, and for a while they sat side by side in silence. A tiny spider wove gossamer threads upon the petals. Not far away, an elf was singing, her voice like sunlight on running water. Bilbo watched as Aragorn listened.
"Did you...?" he asked, when he could keep it in no longer. "Have you been...?"
"Oh yes," said Aragorn. "At the first turning of spring."
Leaves skittered across the terrace, golden in the autumn breeze. "Tell me," Bilbo breathed.
"It was in the Southfarthing," Aragorn said. "I had come up in haste from Sarn Ford."
"In haste?" Bilbo's hand fluttered to his breast. "Is the Shire in danger?"
Perhaps unconsciously, Aragorn’s fingers brushed his sword. "It was," he said, "but it was a small danger, and it is past."
"Good. Good." Bilbo let out a breath. "I often walked in the Southfarthing before..." He closed his eyes; opened them again. "Tell me what you saw."
It was an old game, and Aragorn knew the rules. "I saw a tree. It was still bare, still clinging to winter, but in the distance and all around, the other trees were clad in the first fresh leaves of spring."
"Oh yes," sighed Bilbo. "I remember spring time in the Shire. The trees here are more beautiful, of course, but I have never known a dearer green."
"There were no buildings," said Aragorn, "but there was nothing wild about it, not at all. There were fields and trees, but nearer than that, stretching away from the path, were long lines of well-tended vines, just beginning to sprout new leaves."
"Old Winyards!" Bilbo gave a shuddering laugh. "A flask of Old Winyards at the fireside after a long day's walk." He sighed. Strange birds were singing and strange butterflies flew. "But you haven't finished the game, Dunadan. The sky! Tell me about the sky."
"It was sunset," said Aragorn. "There were low clouds at the horizon, and the sun itself was hidden, but the entire western sky was… not aflame, for it was softer than that, but the colour of a ripe peach."
"I have never seen a peach," said Bilbo.
"A rose, then." Aragorn’s voice was smiling, but Bilbo could not see him; his eyes saw other places, far away. "The colour of a hobbit maiden’s blushes, but fading at the edge to gold and then to cream."
"I see it," Bilbo breathed. "I see it."
Aragorn said nothing for long while. "You miss the Shire," he said at last, and his voice was gentle.
"Of course I do." He had not meant to say it. It was impossible to feel discontent in the House of Elrond, everybody knew that; but Bilbo was still half dazed with sunset. "Of course I do."
But there was no leaving Rivendell now, not for him. He had tried, in those early days; so often had he tried. He had tried to journey to brave new lands, but always his feet betrayed him, and he found himself heading the same way. I’ve just popped back for that ring of mine, Frodo, my lad. Can I see it again, just once?
Can I touch it?
Can I hold it?
Give it to me!
Bilbo wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand. "But you can never feel discontent in the House of Elrond, or not for long." He forced a smile, and a moment later it became a real one, meant from the heart. "And why should I need to see it again, when I have friends who paint such pictures with their words? It is enough, my friend. It is more than enough."
"I’m glad," said Aragorn, but although his voice was gentle, it was grave.
Bilbo blinked, clearing memories from his eyes. "Oh dear. Here you are indulging an old hobbit’s fancy, when you’ve been enduring who knows what hardships out in the wilds."
"Nay," said Aragorn, "it is always a balm to me to remember it." He stood up, and Bilbo saw that the lines on his face were indeed eased, and his eyes were less shadowed, and sunlight danced on his head like a crown. "But other tasks await me, and I must take my leave."
His hand rested for a moment on Bilbo’s hair. It smelled of earth and stone and great open spaces. Bilbo shifted, and the book almost slid from his lip. He grabbed it by its edges, careful not to touch the fragile picture.
"It is called Annuminas," said Aragorn quietly.
"What is?" Bilbo asked.
"The city in the picture," Aragorn said. "The capital of the Kings of Arnor, drawn long ago by one of my fathers, after the fall."
He walked away. Nearby, and suddenly, a voice rose up, singing of Valinor, so far beyond the reaches of the sea.
Bilbo gazed at the picture, until the pastel towers blurred and trembled with his slow tears.
Not all exiles had friends who could paint them pictures of their lost home.
Notes: This is my first ever challenge response, and - despite the fact that I've loved Tolkien for over 30 years and have been writing fanfic for 18 - only my second story in this fandom, so I hope I've not committed any hideous faux pas. I'm feeling quite pleased about hitting the 1000 words target, since I'm not generally good at reining the words in.
I'm now fighting the urge, not to expand this story, per se, but to write a longer story dealing with similar themes, describing Bilbo's time in Rivendell in a series of snapshots. I'm trying to fight this urge and let this story stand on its own. I'm not sure if I'm winning.
I considered not posting the picture that inspired the story, since the theme of the story was that sometimes you don't need to see a scene with your own eyes, but it's a nice picture, so here it is.