Xena and Gabrielle stared in shock at the little old man standing in front of the round door set into the side of the hill.
Xena was the first to recover. “Pleased to meet you, sir. My name is Xena, and this is my friend Gabrielle. Forgive us for staring, but we’ve never seen anyone like you before in our wanderings.”
“That’s quite alright, young lady. I dare say you haven’t, as Hobbits normally don’t go off on adventures, and never travel farther than the edges of the Shire on business. I believe that so far I’m the only one who’s done it, although I could be wrong. Gandalf would know, he’s far older and wiser than I am, and he’s the one who set me up for my great adventure, would know.”
“Who’s Gandalf?” Gabrielle asked. “Sorry, we’re not from around here, and the name is unfamiliar to us.”
“Oh, he’s known by many names, Gandalf is only one of them. He’s a wizard, one of only a few to begin with, and he may be the only one left now, unless old Saruman is still around. He was Gandalf’s mentor, you see, so is even older than Gandalf. I’m not really sure how long wizards live, having only ever met Gandalf and Saruman about fifty years ago, a relatively short time in the life of a wizard. But you should come to my birthday party tonight, you’ll be able to meet him then. He’s bringing the fireworks, as usual.”
“We’d like that, thank you,” Xena replied.
Later that night, Xena and Gabrielle approached Bag End, and saw all the lights strung up in a nearby field.
“That must be where the party is,” Gabrielle noted, nodding toward the lights. “He did say everyone was invited, and that looks like a lot of people moving around.”
“Let’s go see,” Xena suggested, and they made their way toward the lights. Passing a tent, they heard two voices arguing over which fireworks should be set off first. Just as they reached the edge of the crowd, a giant firework shaped like a red dragon swooped toward the crowd, scaring everyone present except for the newcomers, who were used to seeing such things.
“That was pretty realistic,” Gabrielle said, as she and Xena flattened themselves against a tree so they didn’t get trampled by the panicking Hobbits.
“Apparently they think so, too,” Xena agreed. “Maybe we should keep them from trampling each other into the ground.”
“I don’t think you can do much about this stampede,” Gabrielle observed. “They’ll just have to run themselves out. That looks like the old man over there, being kept out of the crowd by his tall friend. Let’s go see if we can help get him to safety, at least.”
Xena and Gabrielle skirted the crowd and made their way toward the two figures. As they approached, they saw one was dressed all in grey, wearing a pointed hat and carrying a staff that was similar in appearance to Gabrielle’s, although she suspected he used his for more than just walking.
“I’m fine, Gandalf,” they heard Bilbo say as they neared the two companions. “I was only knocked down for a second. I may not be a young man anymore, but I’m not quite old enough to be put out of commission by a firework, either.”
“I’m just looking out for you, old friend,” Gandalf protested. “Someone has to, as your nephew seems to have taken off into the crowd and is nowhere to be found.”
“Frodo’s a good lad, Gandalf, he always takes care of me. He probably just got swept up in the crowd and can’t break free. He’ll be along when he can.”
“Can we help find your nephew?” Xena offered.
“Oh, hello! He’ll probably be along later, I’m not as worried about him as Gandalf is,” Bilbo replied. “I have some things I need to do at home anyway, and they’re best done when he’s out of the house, so he’s not fussing over me the whole time.”
The group made their way toward Bag End as they talked, and Bilbo led them into his sitting room. He invited them to sit, then went to the kitchen to make tea. He returned a few minutes later with a tray loaded with a tea service and plates of cakes and sandwiches. Placing it on the coffee table, he poured for everyone and passed around cups and plates.
“I’ve been planning a trip for the last few weeks, and have some last minute packing to do,” Bilbo explained to his guests. “I was hoping to slip away while Frodo was off with his friends, so that he wouldn’t try to stop me from leaving. This is something I’ve needed to do for a while, but I’m not sure he’d understand, and explaining to him in a letter is much easier than in person, so I’ve left a note for him on my desk, hoping he won’t find it till I’m long gone. But if I know Merry and Pippin, they’ll keep him out till well after I’ve left.”
“We won’t keep you from your packing, then,” Xena said. “We just wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“No trouble at all,” Bilbo assured them. “And I’m fine, Gandalf kept me from being trampled by the crowd.”
“You two look capable of taking care of yourselves, why don’t you go with Bilbo, at least part of the way? He’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself as well, but the journey ahead of him is perilous, and he could always use a couple bodyguards, just to see him safely to his destination,” Gandalf suggested.
“We would be more than happy to help,” Xena replied. “Where are you headed?”
“To Rivendell, to visit the elves,” Bilbo answered. “I haven’t been there in fifty years, and I’ve been missing the place, and my old friends. I would like to see them again, before I’m too old to make the journey, and may decide to stay there for quite a while, so I’m giving Bag End to Frodo to do as he likes with it, just in case I’m not able to make the return journey. Rivendell is a very long way from here, and while I’m not so old and decrepit just yet, one hundred and eleven isn’t exactly young anymore, either.”
Xena and Gabrielle managed to hide their shock at his age, but it still took Xena a couple tries before she could answer.
“We’d be delighted to escort you to your friends,” she said. “We’ve never been to Rivendell, so it would be a new adventure for us. We’ll be ready to leave whenever you are, we travel light. Just let us know when you’re ready to go.”
They visited with Bilbo and Gandalf a while longer, then excused themselves to go back to their camp and pack their own things, promising to be back within the hour.