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Shire Yule  by Dreamflower

Though I have written several Yule stories before, many of them found in my "Mathoms" anthologies, I am planning for quite a number of them this year.  So I am creating a separate place for them.

They are more or less in chronological order, though they'll be interspersed with some of the stories I've done before, so in case anyone wants to read them that way, I will provide links to the previously posted stories.

Before the first story in this anthology, these two stories take place:

YULE AMONG THE BEORNINGS--Bilbo's Yule on his Adventure...

BRANDY HALL, HEARTHSIDE AT YULE, S.R. 1349-- A Yule evening around the fireside at Brandy Hall with a number of young hobbits, and Bilbo…

Summary: Bilbo and baby Frodo, Yule, 1368 and a brief encounter (A double drabble)


Bilbo stood by the hearth in Drogo‘s and Primula‘s Brandy Hall apartment, warming his chill hands, and breathing in the scent of the cut evergreens that garlanded the mantelpiece. While he had always looked forward to Yule at Brandy Hall, this year had found him more eager than usual.

For only a little more than three months ago, he had found himself quite taken with an infant pair of blue eyes, and he wondered if the child would still seem as remarkable as he had upon first acquaintance.

Ah! Here was Primula now, her son squirming and gurgling in her arms. Bilbo turned to them, and reached in his pocket for the silver rattle he had brought as a gift.

“Frodo, here is your Uncle Bilbo.” She held the baby out.

Carefully he took the babe, who reached out to grip his finger with a strong, if tiny hand. He looked at Primula helplessly, for he could not hold the child and give him his gift at the same time.

Laughing, she took the bauble, and distracted Frodo, who released Bilbo’s finger to grasp for it.

Bilbo was rewarded by a toothless grin, and a tiny laugh like silver chimes.

Summary: In which Frodo understandably does not have the Yule spirit…


(Frodo is 12, or 7 ½ in Man-years)


“Please go away, Aunt Esme.”

“Frodo, will you not at least light a candle? It can’t be good to lie here in the dark.”

“I don’t care. I like it dark.”

“Frodo, the others are wondering where you are.”

A sigh. “They don’t really care.”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“No.” But the rumble of a stomach gives lie to that.

A sigh. A click of the door. The sliver of light when Esmeralda held it ajar vanishes.


“I don’t wish to come out to supper, Uncle Saradoc. Please just let me rest.”

“We are worried about you, Frodo.”

“I’m fine.”

Another sigh.

“Frodo, you know that you can come join us. We miss you.”

“I miss my Mama and Papa!”

“We will set a tray aside for you, Frodo.” Once more the sliver of light disappears. All is black within the room. The only sound to be heard is of the ticking of a clock in the darkness.


“Uncle Bilbo?” A hesitation. Then “Please go away.”

“I’m coming in, Frodo-lad.”

The sliver of light widens, blocked at the center by the darkness of a moving shape. There is a scent of chicken and of tea. Bilbo moves into the room, and fumbling a bit in the darkness puts a tray upon the night table. Then the sound of a striker, and Frodo gasps, and squints his eyes at the sudden brightness of flame as Bilbo lights the candle there.

Frodo sits up, prepared to argue. But Bilbo is not looking at him, but is pouring out tea into two cups upon the tray. “I brought a bit of chicken soup as well. Your Aunt Amaranth made it.”

Frodo’s stomach rumbles again. “Why are you here? You should be in the side parlor, telling stories.” Bilbo *always* told stories at Yule.

Bilbo hands him a cup of the soup, and Frodo takes a sip before he really means to. He bites his lip.

“I can tell stories later. I’d rather be here with you. Besides, how can I tell stories without my favorite listener at my knee?”

Frodo puts down the cup. “Oh, Uncle Bilbo! It *hurts*! I miss them so much!”

“I know, my lad.”

Bilbo gathers Frodo into his embrace, and Frodo’s sobs into Bilbo’s waistcoat, great wracking sobs, as Bilbo rocks him and pats his back.

“I know, Frodo, I know.”

After a while the storm passes. Bilbo hands Frodo a handkerchief, and Frodo blows his nose.

“I suppose I can eat something now, Uncle.”

“There’s mushroom pie and pork roast and carrots on a tray in the sitting room.”

Frodo nods, and allows Bilbo to lead him from the room.

They close the door behind them, leaving the darkness inside.

Summary: Merry’s nursemaid is feeling a bit homesick on the holidays…


(Frodo is 15 and Merry is 10 months or 9 years and about 7 months in Man-years).

Dahlia was feeling a bit lonesome. She’d come to Brandy Hall, from her home in Whitfurrows, to be in service there. She’d thought that she would just be a serving maid, or perhaps an undercook in the kitchen. But when Mistress Brandybuck heard that Dahlia had experience caring for her younger brothers and sisters, she had suggested to the young Mistress, Mistress Esmeralda, that Dahlia might work out as little Master Meriadoc’s nursemaid.

And so she had. He was a bonny babe, she thought him. He had big grey eyes twinkling with joy, that followed a body all round the room. And he was seldom cross or fussy, save when he was teething, and he often crowed with squeals of laughter that made her feel happy just to listen to. She thought he was well named, for he really was merry by nature. She had grown quite fond of him.

And Mistress Esmeralda and Mr. Saradoc were ever so kind, though Dahlia thought she’d never get used to them trying to treat her like family. They was gentry, after all, and Mr. Saradoc the Son of the Hall and Heir to the Master, so it wasn’t really proper. But she thought it was better than if they were unkind or demanding, as she had heard some masters might be.

But it was poor little Master Frodo who made her life ever so much easier. He just doted on wee Master Merry. He often would help her with changing the babe’s nappies or feeding him. He was happy to carry the baby around, talking to him and playing with him.

At first, Dahlia had tried to stop him. He was only a little lad himself after all--he’d only just turned fifteen on his birthday. And he was gentry--nephew to Master Rorimac, and Mr. Saradoc’s first cousin, for all he was a Baggins. It made her feel at times as though she was shirking her work, when he would insist on taking care of Master Merry himself.

But then Mistress Esmeralda had explained things to Dahlia--how the lad’s parents had drowned and he was an orphan, poor thing, and that he’d been ever so sorrowful and still grieving, till Master Merry had been born. The mistress told Dahlia that she should let Master Frodo help as much as he was of a mind to, as long as it gave him joy, for they’d been ever so worried about him. Now she and Master Frodo had things worked out between them, and he would be at her side as he helped her. And of course, sometimes he had to be shooed off to his lessons with Mr. Dinodas, his uncle. And every so often, Mr. Saradoc or Mistress Esmeralda would tell him to go outside and get some fresh air and exercise. So it still left plenty for Dahlia to do.

But it was Yule.

And she missed her family.

The master and mistress had explained to her that after this year, she’d be free to go home for the holidays, but Master Merry was still too young this year.

Yet she might as well have gone home, for all she’d had to do. Yesterday had been First Yule, and it was the day for family--so once she’d dressed Master Merry and all, his parents and Master Frodo had taken the baby off with them to the Master’s apartment, where all the Brandybucks would be gathered. Master Frodo was ever so excited, because his Baggins uncle, Mr. Bilbo Baggins that was, who everybody in the Shire knew about--that had gone off and had an Adventure many years ago--had arrived. Dahlia had met him once or twice now, and he seemed ever so jolly and kind. She blushed to think how some folks she knew called him “Mad Baggins”. Why he weren’t no more mad than she was!

So she’d been alone in the Son of the Hall’s apartment the livelong day, with naught to do but a little bit of mending.

She sighed.

Today was supposed to be the day for the friends and acquaintances to call, and for the servants to have their holiday. But Dahlia didn’t know too many of the other servants yet, as she spent most of her time in the apartment. She’d struck up a bit of a friendship with one of the maidservants, Yarrow Bunce. But Yarrow had gone to Stock to be with her own family.

So now, here she was, alone again, and not even any mending to do. It was almost enough to make her want to weep--though she knew what her mother would say to that: “Tears don’t mend nothing, and just get the pillows wet.” Her mam was very practical that way, and good hobbit-sense it was, too.

Just then, the door opened, and Master Frodo came in, with Master Merry on his hip. Dahlia startled, for she had thought they were with Mr. Saradoc and Mistress Esmeralda, gone to visit friends at Bucklebury.

“I’m that surprised to see you here, Master Frodo! Is aught wrong?”

He laughed and bounced Merry upon his hip, making the baby squeal with joy. “No, nothing is wrong. But it’s second Yule.” He said that as if she would know what he meant.

“Will you hold Merry, please?” he asked, handing the baby to her. She took the little one, and chuckled to herself. Only Master Frodo would think to ask the nursemaid so politely to do her job!

Frodo dashed off to his own little room, the other side of the master and mistresses’ room. She’d been a bit surprised that he’d been given a windowless room, but then Mistress Esmeralda confided that sometimes he wandered at night, and so this way they could keep an eye out for him leaving his room.

Master Merry turned his eyes on Dahlia, and burbled and blew a few bubbles from the side of his mouth as he cooed. He reached up to try and grab her hair, and she laughed at him. He made her feel much better.

Just then, Frodo came out. He had a small package in his hand. “I know Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme have already given you a gift, but this is from me, to thank you for taking such good care of my Merry!”

Dahlia gasped, and unbidden tears sprang to her eyes, though she blinked them away.

Frodo reached over, and handed her the package as he took his little cousin from her arms. “I hope you like it!”

Dahlia blushed, and untied the string that held the wrapping of muslin. “Oh, Master Frodo!”

In a rather crooked frame was a small watercolor painting. It was clearly done by a child, and yet the subject was quite recognizable--it was Dahlia herself, with Merry on her knee.

Frodo was watching her anxiously. “Do you like it?” he asked hopefully. “Cousin Margulas helped me make the frame.”

“Why, it’s the beautifullest picture I ever got!” she exclaimed sincerely and truthfully. No one had ever given her one before, but even if they had, it would not have touched her heart more.

Merry squirmed about in Frodo’s arms, and looked her way happily. “Meh!” he babbled.

Frodo giggled. “I think maybe he is telling you Merry Yule, Dahlia!”

She reached out an arm and embraced him, baby and all. “I think maybe you’re right Master Frodo.


These stories take place after this one:

WAITING FOR BILBO--It’s a cold morning in Foreyule, and it’s time for Bilbo to arrive at Brandy Hall…

BRANDY HALL ON FIRST YULE, S.R. 1388--A typical Yule at Brandy Hall (takes place a few days after the one above)

IN FROM THE COLD--A Yuletime journey to Buckland by Bilbo and Frodo takes a serious turn…

Summary: Two guardians spend their holiday doing their duty… (a double drabble)


Two Men stood upon a snowy hillock, overlooking the village of Scary in the Northfarthing of the Shire. The taller one nudged the dead warg with a toe.

“Too close, Halbarad,” said Aragorn. “I would we had not pursued this one into the Shire.”

Halbarad sighed. “ ‘Tis not the way I would have wished to spend Yuletide.”

Aragorn nodded. “I know of a nearby cave where we may take shelter.”

They stood a moment, breath wisping in the cold. Aragorn cocked his head. “Listen!”

Music and laughter spilled out from the candlelit windows of the village below, lending warmth to the long night.

Halbarad shook his head. “They have no idea of the peril from which we have saved them tonight.”

Aragorn looked at the scene below. “If simple folk are to be free from care and fear, simple they will be. I grudge it not.” He smiled. “Hobbits by their very nature lend joy and cheer to a world grown cold and dangerous. Somehow, I know in my heart that one day our careful watch over them will be rewarded beyond all our expectations.”

The snow began to swirl. Soon all evidence of their presence would be gone.

 Summary: Aunt Dora writes a letter filled with Good Advice to her niece Daisy…


5 Foreyule, S.R. 1401

My Dear Daisy,

I am sorry to have to Decline your Invitation to spend Yule with you. But Frodo kindly asked if I would like to accompany him to Buckland this year. As I have not gone there since before Frodo came to live at Bag End, I feel that it is my Responsibility to do so this year. The poor dear still Feels Keenly Bilbo’s leaving, and I think it my Duty to give him my company on the Journey. And I will be a Steadying Influence for him, among all those Brandybucks!

I look forward, as well, to a Visit with Menegilda. As you know, her Health is not what it used to be, and she does not travel outside of Buckland any longer.

As to your Queries about your other guests, it would be most Improper of you to leave Cousin Blanco off the List. He should be invited. While it would be most Awkward, as he has yet to Forgive young Folco’s thoughtless words, he would be Offended even further not to be asked. Trust that he will Decline the Invitation--his Affliction has made him very self-conscious, and he rarely accepts any Invitations these days, but it will Mollify him to be asked. The last time I spoke to his daughter Ivy, she said he had even given up Trying to find a Potion that would Grow Hair.

You may also feel safe in inviting Togo and Betony Banks. I know that they have already Received and Accepted Invitations to the Great Smials this year. This will give them the Satisfaction of having an Excuse to turn you down, and you may feel that you have done your Duty in asking them. While I know that Togo was secretly amused at Folco’s Indiscretion at their wedding, Cousin Betony took it Greatly to Heart, and was very embarrassed.

Of course, she had only herself to Blame--putting the Dessert before the Main Course is never Wise--and the Early Arrival of little Tolo would have Alerted anyone who was not already quite Aware of the Situation. After all, little Folco had no idea he was saying anything wrong. He never does.

Speaking of Folco, I am Very Pleased to hear of his progress with his flute lessons. I knew the lad would have Talent, as you May Remember that I told you, and you may tell him from me that Aunt Dora is very Proud of him. I do hope that the Bolgers will be in Attendance at your Yule celebration. Little Fredegar is a Steadying Influence on Folco; between his Vigilance, and Folco’s flute, perhaps your son will be able to Refrain from saying anything terribly Insulting or Outrageous this year. I am enclosing two silver pence with this letter; please give them to him as his Yule gift from me, along with a Kiss and a Hug from his fond Aunt Dora.

I hope that you are not Indulging yourself in the latest Fashionable Taste for Purple this year. It is not an Attractive Color for most, and it certainly would not flatter you. You will be far Better Served with a serviceable dark green gown. I also hope that you are being Reasonable in the matter of your Neckline. Remember that you are a Baggins, and Not a Took! I was most Appalled during my last visit to the Great Smials to see what sorts of things Lalia was allowing the lasses to wear there. Even some of the matrons were displaying far more Bosom than is Proper!

Finally, while it was Very Good of you and Griffo to bring your father to the Yale to live with you, please do not allow him to Run you Ragged. I am Dudo’s sister, and I tell you that if you Indulge him, he will play up his Poor Health for all it is worth. Be very brisk and Matter of Fact with him, and do not wait on him Hand and Foot. I tell you this for Your Own Good.

I shall miss seeing you this year, but as I said, I think Frodo Needs me more. I Wish you all the Best for the Festive Season. Happy New Year, my dear.

Affectionately Yours,

Aunt Dora

 I'm afraid yesterday's fic rather jumped ahead in the timeline. This one takes place in SR 1395.

December 10

Rating: G
Summary: Pippin's been ill over Yule, but now he's better, and Frodo tells him and Merry a story...
Author’s Note: Frodo is 27, Merry is 13 and Pippin is 5. ( Or 17, 8 and 3 in Man-years)


Frodo kept both hands on Merry’s shoulders, as they entered the room where Pippin lay. He was pale and wan, but his thin little face lit up to see his favorite cousins. Frodo licked dry lips, and took a deep breath, putting on a face of confidence as Merry looked up at him for reassurance. He nodded, and gave Merry a tiny push.

No further encouragement was needed. Merry rushed to the bed, and was rewarded by a fierce hug.


Pippin giggled, and Frodo breathed a sigh of relief. Yuletide at Brandy Hall had been very subdued this year. Bilbo and Frodo had arrived the same day as the Whitwell Tooks. But Pippin had developed a cold, which had quickly taken a turn for the worse--there had followed several anxious days, during which Merry had been banned from the sickroom as being too young. But this morning Pippin was doing much better and calling for Merry.

He crossed the room, and sat down on the edge of the bed. Merry had already climbed up, and was snuggling up with his little cousin, who seem quite happy and content with their presence.

“Aunt Tina and Aunt Esme have said we may stay with you this morning, dearest,” Frodo said, dropping a kiss on the chestnut curls.

“Good!” Pippin grinned up at him, and Frodo was glad to see that his cheerful nature had not been quashed by his sickness. “Tell us a story, Frodo!”

“Oh yes,” said Merry. “A story would be splendid!”

Frodo grinned. *That* he could do! “Well, Pip,” he said, “I shall let you choose--what kind of story do you wish to hear?”

“Oh, a ‘Tip and Tulip’ one! Please, Frodo?” Pippin gave a tiny bounce.

Merry met Frodo’s eyes, and rolled his own, but his grin belied him. He was supposed to be too old for such nursery tales, but actually he was still quite fond of them.

Frodo returned the grin, and then pursed his lips in thought. He turned his eyes to the window, where the flakes of an early snow swirled. It was only a light snow, and would probably melt away as soon as it touched the ground, but it reminded him of one of the stories. He scooted up on the bed, and arranged himself next to his cousins, before he began, with the traditional words that began every such story…

Once there were two little hobbits named Tip and Tulip. They were brother and sister, and they lived in a cozy little smial with their mama and their papa and their auntie.

One morning on first Yule, Tip and Tulip awakened to find that there had been a magnificent snow in the night. Outside their hole, all was white and cold, and the snow was much deeper than ever they had seen it before. They could scarcely contain their excitement at first breakfast, and coaxed their mama to allow them to go out and play.

But of course, they had to open their Yule gifts first. There were snuggly new hats, scarves and mittens, and Tip got a new ball, while Tulip got a new dress for her dolly. Then they had to have second breakfast.

After they ate griddlecakes and eggs and sausages and fried taters and mushrooms and each had a cup of warm milk with honey and cinnamon, their mama told them they could finally go out to play in the snow.

Auntie bundled them up in their warmest coats and their leggings, and they put on their new hats and scarves, and bounced out to play in the snow.

First they ran about making footprints, and then they had a lovely snowball fight. But finally they decided to make a snow-hobbit. They began to pack the snow and gather it up, until they had formed the snow-hobbit’s body. Then they made a little snowball, and rolled it about in the snow until they had a snowball the size of a hobbit’s head: there he stood, a body and a head, but no face nor anything else--but their papa called them then, to come in for elevenses.

They came in from the cold, their cheeks as red as berries, and had some lovely soup and toasted sandwiches. But they were eager to finish their snow-hobbit, and so they barely finished their third helpings, before they were begging their parents to let them go out again.

“But Mama,” said Tip, “we need something to make our snow-hobbit’s face!”

“And Mama,” said Tulip, “our snow hobbit will need something to wear!”

So Tip’s mama took him into the larder, and he picked out a nice carrot to use for a nose. And she took him to her sewing box, and they found some lovely black buttons to make his eyes.

And Tulip’s auntie took her to the mathom room, and they found an old weskit of their papa’s.

Then Tip went to their room and got his *old* hat and scarf, while Tulip found some of her *old* mittens.

Now they bundled up warmly, and went out once more into the snow, and soon they had finished him: he looked magnificent, in his bright green hat and scarf and scarlet mittens on the ends of the broken limbs that Tulip had found for his arms. The yellow weskit fit him perfectly. His button eyes shone brightly, and his carrot nose was at a jaunty angle. Tip took off his mitten, and with a finger, traced a happy smile upon his face.

What a splendid snow-hobbit he was! thought Tip and Tulip. They stood back to admire their handiwork.

But *now* it was time for luncheon, as their tummies loudly told them. So in they went, and there was a lovely lunch--they had some ham and roasted potatoes and there was a large pot of beans and some carrots cooked with a honey glaze, and baked apples for afters. The two little hobbits ate heartily, and filled in all their corners, before they once more begged leave to go out and see their snow-hobbit.

Once more their auntie and their mama bundled them up, and out of the smial they ran, eager to play.


They did not see their snow-hobbit where they had left him! There was no sign of him at all! He could not have melted, for if he had, where would be the carrot and the buttons and the clothes they had put on him? They gazed in dismay at the slightly dented snow where he had stood, and tears sprang to Tulip’s eyes, as she thought of all their work wasted.

“Someone must have stolen him!” said Tip crossly.

“Stolen whom?” said an unfamiliar voice.

Tip and Tulip jumped in startlement, and turned. There was their snow-hobbit! It was he who had spoken! He had come alive!

They gazed at him in wonder. Finally, Tulip said shyly, “Oh my! How did you come to be alive?”

The snow-hobbit gave a little bow, and said “This is a Yule snow! There is sometimes magic in a Yule snow!”

The two little hobbits ran to hug their new friend. He did not feel at all icy and cold, as they would have thought. “Will you play with us?” said Tip.

“Of course!” said the snow-hobbit. “That is the very reason I came to life!”

Oh, what a splendid time Tip and Tulip had with him! He showed them how to build a snow-smial, and when he lay down upon the snow, they could sit upon his back, and he would slide down the hill, much faster than the fastest of sleds!

They had such a wonderful afternoon, they even forgot to think of the time, and were quite startled when they heard their papa calling them in for tea.

“Oh dear!” said Tulip. “It will be dark after tea!”

Tip nodded. “They won’t let us come back out after tea! It will be too dark. Can you come in and take tea with us?”

“Alas,” said the snow-hobbit, “that I cannot do! But I have had a good time with you today.”

Sadly, Tip and Tulip hugged him good-bye. “We will play with you again in the morning,” said Tip.

The snow-hobbit gave them a sad smile, and said “Perhaps,” and patted them on their heads with his mitten hands, and sent them in for tea.

So Tip and Tulip went in for tea, and afterwards, they sat in the front room and listened to their papa read them stories, and then they had supper and were tucked up snugly in their little bed. They fell asleep dreaming of all the fun they would have with the snow-hobbit on the morrow.

But when they woke up in the morning, the snow was all melted and gone away. Tip and Tulip were very sad to find a puddle, with a very wet weskit, hat, scarf and mittens, and two buttons in it where last they had seen their snow-friend. They gathered these things up with tears in their eyes, and took them in to dry before the fire.

When they told their mama and papa about why they were sad, their parents patted them on the heads and told them they had very good imaginations.

But when they told their auntie, she winked at them, and said for them to save the snow-hobbit’s things, in case it should snow again next Yule.

Merry stirred under Frodo’s arm. “That’s rather a sad story, Frodo,” he said.

But Pippin smiled sleepily. “Maybe we’ll have snow for Yule sometime!” he said as he snuggled closer into his cousins’ embrace, and his eyes closed in slumber.

 Rating: G
Summary: A Yule carol popular in Tookland…


Light the Yule log, blazing cheer,
Giving warmth this time of year.
Turning back all thoughts of fear,
As we hold close our loved ones dear!

The day is short; the night is long.
Against the dark we sing this song--
Let our hearts be filled with light
And may the world again grow bright!

We put up many stores ahead
Against the cold months left to tread.
Shall we now have meat and bread?
Our bodies and our hearts be fed!

The day is short; the night is long.
Against the dark we sing this song--
Let our hearts be filled with light
And may the world again grow bright!

Though the world is dark and cold,
While we have a hand to hold,
And we are safe within the fold,
Our spirits may be brave and bold!

The day is short; the night is long.
Against the dark we sing this song--
Let our hearts be filled with light
And may the world again grow bright!

Light the Yule log, blazing cheer,
Giving warmth this time of year.
Turning back all thoughts of fear,
As we hold close our loved ones dear!

 Rating: G
Summary: Fatty Bolger wakes up on First Yule…(a drabble)
Author’s Note: Fredegar and Folco are 15, Estella is 10 (or 9 and 6 ½ in Man-years)


Fatty wakened, cold. Estella had stolen the covers. Folco was gone. He smelled the yeasty scent of fresh bread, and the fruity aroma of tea. He turned to the window. Still early: first breakfast, then. He sat up carefully, so as not to waken his little sister, and wondered where Folco had gone. Folco and his family were spending Yule with the Bolgers this year. He stood up, peered out the window.

There, on the frost-covered lawn: Folco, flute to his lips, playing a sprightly Yule carol. Fatty threw open the sash to hear music, swirling through the morning air.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: "Thrimmidge" is equivalent to May; "1 Lithe" is the first of the Midsummer holiday; "Halimath" is September; "Blotmath" is November; and "1 Yule" is the last day of the old year, "2 Yule" the first day of the new. 


15 Thrimmidge, S.R. 1416

Frodo sat on the bench next to the front step of Bag End, enjoying a pipe, and watching Sam as he worked in the herbaceous border along the path. It was early for elevenses yet, but he was feeling a little peckish, and thought he would ask Sam to come in and join him for some tea and seedcake, when he noticed the post-hobbit coming in at the gate to Bag End.

“Good morning, Mr. Baggins!” said that individual cheerily. “And Sam.”

Sam looked up and grinned, but did not stop his work.

“Hullo, Hob! Post for me, I take it?” Frodo tapped out his pipe, and lay it beside him on the bench.

“Just the one letter here, Mr. Baggins, from the Great Smials…” he handed the envelope over.

Frodo raised his eyebrows at the familiar scrawl. Pippin, then. But he was surprised--Pippin and Merry had only just left Bag End from their spring visit last week. What on earth could Pippin be writing him about so soon? He hoped nothing was amiss…

As Hob went on his way, whistling happily, Frodo ran his thumb under the seal and opened the letter. It was brief, Pippin’s letters always were. Sam had stopped a moment to watch his master’s face.

Frodo grinned, and then laughed.

“Good news, Mr. Frodo?”

“See for yourself, Sam!” He held the letter out to the gardener, who stood up and wiped his hands on his trousers, and reached for it, not without a thought at the back of his mind that the Gaffer would not approve of his reading his master’s correspondence, even if it were his master’s idea.

“Dear Frodo,

I’m to be an uncle at last! Pimmie and Milo are going to have a baby sometime around next Yule! Isn’t it splendid?

your cousin,

P.S. Merry says tell you that if I don’t stop bouncing about and crowing over this he’s going to sit on me. I think he’s just jealous because he won’t be an uncle!”

Sam laughed. “If that don’t sound *just* like Mr. Pippin and Mr. Merry! So, there’ll be another little Took cousin for you, then, sir?”

“Goodbody,” said Frodo absently, smiling fondly. “Pimpernel’s married to a Goodbody. But I’m quite sure everyone will count this little one as a Took, whatever the last name may be!” With a tender smile, he folded the letter up and put it away. He would have to see about something very nice as a gift for the new baby. “Well, Sam, what do you say about some elevenses?”

1 Lithe, S.R. 1416

Merry looked up in amusement from the map of the Westfarthing he was studying. Pippin was going to wear a hole in the library carpet if Frodo did not arrive soon. He had to admit, he was eager to see Frodo again himself, but he was old enough now to wait with a bit of dignity, instead of hopping about the way Pippin did. He smiled to himself. Come to think of it, he didn't much expect Pippin would *ever* learn to wait with dignity--no matter how old he got.

He shook his head and rolled the map up, replacing it with care into the red leather map case. "Do you want to go down to the lane and wait?" he asked.

But just then they heard voices in the front hall.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Baggins, may I take your pack?"

"Yes, thank you, Timmon. Where may I find Pippin? Oof! Never mind." for Pippin had bolted from the library to greet his cousin, Merry at his heels. "You are getting too old for that, Pip! You'll be knocking me over next!"

Merry watched Frodo and Pippin for a moment, and then took his own chance to embrace his older cousin. "Hullo, Frodo! You're looking fit."

"I should do, after that trek." Frodo usually walked to Great Smials. It was only about fourteen miles cross-country, after all.

The three cousins linked arms and headed toward the passages leading to the Thain's apartments. Frodo knew that Timmon would already have taken his pack to his own guest room, and he was eager to greet Cousins Paladin and Eglantine.

Pippin was talking a mile a minute about everything under the Sun, when he stopped speaking abruptly. "Botheration!" he said.

The cousins stopped, and Frodo and Merry saw what Pippin had noticed. There stood Cousin Hyacinth, Reggie Took's wife, speaking to Mistress Poppy, the healer.

"I was just wondering," came Hyacinth's piercing tones, "how poor Pearl is taking this news of her sister's expectancy?"

Mistress Poppy looked as though she had swallowed something sour. "I am sure I could not say anything about that," she replied in an icy tone of voice. It had no effect on Hyacinth however, who continued speaking as though nothing had been said.

"After all, the poor dear has been wed to Falco Bolger for three years now, and no sign of a child. I am sure that this must be breaking her heart…"

Frodo pursed his lips, and glanced at his younger cousins. Merry's face was getting redder by the minute, and Pippin's was getting paler. "Good day, Cousin Hyacinth," he said frostily. He gave her the full benefit of his blue-eyed glare.

She started when she saw him. For some reason he flustered her badly. "Er, good afternoon, Frodo. I--I need to be going now." She beat a hasty and scarcely dignified retreat.

Poppy Burrows watched the retreating back with amusement. "Thank you, Mr. Baggins," she said, "I was at a loss as to how to get rid of her."

"Think nothing of it," said Frodo. "I am quite sure that Pearl is just as thrilled for her sister as all the rest of us are."

Poppy smiled at him. "I think you are quite right! But I need to be on my way. One of the new kitchen maids seems to have developed a bit of a stomachache."

Pippin was looking at Frodo in admiration. "I wish I knew how you do that, Frodo!"

Frodo shook his head; he was sure he didn't know, but it *was* effective.

In the Thain's apartment, a family gathering was already underway. Paladin and Eglantine greeted Frodo fondly, and he went over to also greet Pippin's aunts, Primrose and Peridot. They both had quite a soft spot for the son of their dear friend Primula.

Pimpernel was seated on the settee by the hearth. She was clearly blooming--it seemed that being with child agreed with her. Her sisters Pearl and Pervinca were listening to her as she discussed the possibilities for names for the baby.

"If it's a lad, it will be named after Milo's great-great-great-grandfather Togo. But we are really having trouble with a lasses' name. Milo and I are agreed: no 'P' names! We will leave those for Pippin, when he marries and has children. The baby will be a Goodbody after all. We want a flower name--the problem is *which* flower. So many of the best ones are taken!"

" 'Aster'," said Pearl.

"Too common," answered Pimpernel.

" 'Hibiscus'," offered Pervinca.

Pimmie shook her head. "Too fancy. It's going to be a Yule baby, so there's not much in bloom that time of year…"

"How about 'Snowdrop'?" asked Pearl.

Pimmie pursed her lips. "I don't think so."

Frodo walked over and greeted the Took sisters. "You are looking very well, Pimmie."

"Thank you, Frodo."

"I couldn't help but hear your discussion. Why should it be any particular flower? 'Blossom' is a lovely name, as is 'Flora'."

"Hmm…'Blossom'? I'm not sure…but, you have given me an idea or two, Frodo."

In the corner, Milo was talking with his mother Dianthus Goodbody, a close friend of Eglantine Took. "Yes, mother, we will be moving into our own set of apartments at the end of Afterlithe. Pimmie and her mother are having them painted and redecorated, and one of the rooms outfitted as a nursery…"

A peal of laughter from the settee caught Frodo's ear, as the sisters began to suggest more and more outrageous names.

" 'Lithodora'," said Pearl.

" 'Calibrachoa'," giggled Pervinca.

" 'Cabbage'," grinned Pearl.

" 'Turnip-blossom'," laughed Pimpernel helplessly.

"Just so long," said Frodo, arching one eyebrow mischievously, "as you don't name her 'Lobelia'."

At that, nearly everyone in the room burst into laughter.

22 Halimath, S.R. 1416

Pimpernel looked out of the window crossly. It was a cold and grey day, more fitting to Blotmath than to Halimath*, but it suited her cold and grey mood. She placed one hand over her rounded stomach, and shook her head. She was feeling quite sorry for herself.

She looked about the new apartment--it still smelled of new paint, though not as strongly as at first it had. She had needed to return to her parent's apartment for two weeks as the paint smell dissipated, for it had made her feel quite ill.

Moving away from the window, with its depressing view of drizzle, she turned to the new nursery. It was cheerful and colorful. The beautiful cradle of oak that was an heirloom of the Tooks had been refinished, and gleamed golden, and it was dressed in a beautiful knitted blanket of palest green and yellow. Aunt Primrose had knitted the blanket. There was a yellowish cast to the paint on the walls. Her sister Pervinca had painted leaves and vines around the windows and doorframes, and gauzy white curtains hung at the windows. It was all very nice.


Here she was, all alone. The rest of the family had gone to Hobbiton for Frodo's Birthday, but it simply wasn't on for her to travel so far right now. And Milo had not gone without her, but he *had* gone into town for some reason.

She sighed.


It was Milo. "I picked up the post while I was in town," he said. He had two parcels, one of them rather small. "I knew my mother was sending this."

Curiously, she took the first one he proffered, the larger one. It was addressed to her in her mother-in- law's elegant hand. She pulled the brown paper away.

"Oh Milo!" Her eyes pricked with tears, as she held up the tiny garment, of white lawn and lace.

"It was my Naming Day gown, and my sister's after me," he said.

"It's beautiful!" She looked at the tiny stitches, the white-on-white embroidery, the perfect little tucks at the bodice and hem.

"You had another parcel as well, my love," he said.

"Is that from your mother also?"

He shook his head, and handed it to her.

She looked at the address. "Why, it's from Cousin Frodo!" Eagerly she pulled the paper away, to reveal a letter and a small box. Opening the box, she gasped. There, on a fine gold chain, was an enamel pendant of her nameflower.

Milo grinned at her. "Should I be jealous of Cousin Frodo?" he asked teasingly.

She laughed, and handed him the necklace, reaching up to pull her hair away from her neck. Obligingly, he fastened it for her. Then she took up the letter, written in Frodo's graceful script:

"My dear Cousin Pimpernel,

I was so sorry to hear that you would be unable to attend my Party this year. But I am very glad of the reason. However, I could not allow this gift to go to waste, even though you are farther away than twelve miles.

Affectionately yours,

Cousin Frodo"

Pimpernel giggled, all her good humor restored. "This was very thoughtful of Cousin Frodo," she said. "He could have simply sent the package home with my parents." She smiled up at her husband. "I am still a bit sorry to be missing the party."

Milo leaned over to kiss her gently. "I'm not. I'd much rather be alone with you." He placed an arm around her, and she leaned into his embrace.

She left her head against his shoulder for a moment, and then looked up. "Oh! Look! The Sun is coming out!"

27 Blotmath, S.R. 1416

Merry entered his parent's apartment--it was time for elevenses, and yet for him it would be first breakfast. He'd been out a bit late the night before, and was rather tired. It had not been nearly the fun it would have been. As it was, he'd nursed one ale all evening while his cousins Berilac and Merimas, had made themselves more than a little tipsy. Of course, he had the satisfaction of knowing that however sleepy he might be, he wouldn't be nursing a sore head as they would be this morning.

It was not that he regretted his pact with Pippin, not to get drunk without him (and he would make that promise again in a heartbeat) but it was not a lot of fun to be sober when everyone else was at the silly stage. Jokes that seemed hilarious when one was flown with ale seemed to have no point at all when one was sober.

Well, Pip would be along for Yule soon enough, and Frodo as well.

"You missed both breakfasts, son," his mother said with mild reproach as he entered the small private dining room.

He shrugged, said "I'm sorry, Mum," as he headed for the teapot on the sideboard. It looked as though there were seedcakes and sweet buns for elevenses--he would have preferred to have broken his fast with something a bit more substantial, but he'd needed the sleep as well.

Saradoc looked at him in amusement. "And what time did you get in?"

Merry chuckled ruefully. "I think it must have been after three o' clock when I poured Beri and Snub into their beds." "Snub" was Merimas; he had a greater share of the distinctive Brandybuck nose than most.

"You have letters," his father said, handing him the post.

One was from Frodo, and he opened and read it eagerly. Frodo confirmed his plans to be in Buckland two weeks before Yule, so that they could have a good visit--his fall visit had not materialized this year, as there had been some business in Hobbiton Frodo could not escape.

"I had hoped that perhaps Gandalf would pay a visit this year; however it seems very unlikely. I did get a letter from him, saying that he had seen Uncle Bilbo, and that he is well. It has been so long since we have had a visit from the wizard--I had begun to wonder if he had not forgot about the Shire completely. 

I've had the second pantry enlarged--so next spring you and Pippin shan't have to worry about my running out of provisions." Merry gave a bark of laughter at that. As if Frodo ever would.

"The Gaffer had a particularly bad flair-up of his rheumatics last week, and I gave Sam a few days off to assist Marigold in tending to him. And the Widow Rumble has been a bit distressed that her old cat has gone missing. I am very much afraid the poor old thing has gone off to die somewhere--he's quite ancient for a cat.

I've been working on a bit of history to do with the settling of the Shire, so I will look forward to seeing the library at the Hall once more. Brandy Hall's library may not be so large as that of the Great Smials, but it has some volumes that are very old and rare, with information I've not found elsewhere."

Merry shook his head. He was not going to allow Frodo to spend his whole visit immured in the library!

At any rate, Merry, I'm looking forward to seeing you very much. Please give my love and regards to Aunt Esme and Uncle Sara!



Merry looked up from the letter. "Frodo sends his love," he said. Then he opened Pippin's letter. It was short, as he expected, but the news was *not* what he expected.

"Dear Merry,

I don't look likely to come for Yule this year. It looks as though Pimmie's baby will make its appearance right at the turning of the year, and I just can't be gone when that happens.

I hope you understand.



Well. *That* was unexpected. And yet, it wasn't. Several of Pippin's brief but frequent letters this fall had to do with his sister's coming confinement, and more to the point, Pippin's impending uncle-hood. The lad had quite an enthusiasm for the event, and was excited and worried by turns. But Merry had not really thought it would keep him from coming at Yule, and for a few seconds he indulged himself in ill-temper and a bit of unbecoming jealousy.

But his good nature reasserted itself quickly. Of course Pippin was excited over being an uncle, and was worried for his sister. And Merry was very fond of Pimpernel himself. He chuckled ruefully--how silly he was, to be jealous of a wee babe who was not even born yet!

Would it be a lad or a lass? he wondered. Perhaps after Yule, he'd accompany Frodo back to Bag End, and they could both go to the Great Smials and meet the new addition to the family.

First Yule, S.R. 1416

It's taking forever! Pippin thought. He sat down once more, right at the edge of the settee, his ears strained for the sounds behind the closed door between the sitting room and the bedroom. He heard another heart-felt moan from his sister, and jumped up again, pacing to the window to look out at the clear night. It had been *hours* and *hours*. In a few moments it would be midnight, and Second Yule.

He bit his lip, and went over to the hearth, where he picked up the poker, and jabbed at the fire, causing sparks to fly up the chimney, and the log to break in two. He reached down and placed a new one on the fire.

"Pippin!" Paladin too, was anxious, and Pippin's fidgeting was getting on his nerves.

"Sorry, Father." He went over and sat down once more, still tightly wound, and ready to spring up again at any moment. "Why can't *we* go in and see her?"

"Son, the only male who needs to be in there is Pimmie's husband. She would not even take notice of us! And Mistress Poppy has all the help she needs, between your mother, and Milo's mother, and Pearl and Pervinca and her apprentice." Paladin sighed. "They would all only yell at us to 'get out!' and rightfully so."

"I suppose." He got up again. It was Yule. He *could* have been at Brandy Hall with Merry and Frodo. Pimmie had told him that he needn't feel obliged to be here when she gave birth--had found it rather amusing that he thought he needed to be. But good heavens! a chap didn't become an uncle for the first time every day.

Now, however, he found himself wishing he had listened. It was awful, this waiting about, and every so often hearing his sister cry out. If it was so painful, it made him wonder why lasses ever wanted to have babies. It's a wonder there were ever any new little hobbits!

A few hours earlier, he'd gone with his father to the main hall, for the lighting of the Yule log. They'd not stayed for the festivities--the Tooks understood why. All the Great Smials were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Thain's first grandchild.

Pippin winced, as he heard Pimmie giving another groan.

The door to the sitting room opened, and he looked over in relief to see his Aunts Primrose and Peridot enter. Auntie Prim went over to her brother, and she and Paladin conversed in low tones. Aunt Peridot came over and stood by him. She gave him a little kiss on the cheek.

"Is everything all right, Pippin?" she asked gently.

"I don't know," said Pippin. "It seems to be taking ever so long! I hate this waiting about!"

She smiled at him. "I've an idea, my dear." She walked over to the shelves near the fireplace, and picked up her lap harp, and Pippin's fiddle and bow.

Pippin's face brightened at the thought of music, and she handed the fiddle to him. In only a few moments they were playing "Light the Yule Log", and followed it by "No Shorter Now Will Grow the Days", "Wassail, Wassail" and other seasonal tunes. Pippin felt himself relax as he made music with his aunt.

Just as they were finishing "It is the Turning of the Year", they heard another sharp cry from the bedroom, followed by the lusty wail of a baby.

Pippin stopped playing and grinned. The door opened, and his mother came out, looking tired but happy.

"It's a lass!" she said.

There was much cheering in the sitting room. Paladin turned to Pippin. "Son, would you like to go make the announcement in the main hall?"

Nodding, Pippin dashed out and ran all the way.

After the cheering and back-slapping had died down, he returned wearily to the family apartments, where most everyone was now in the sitting room except for Milo. Pervinca was asleep in a chair, and on the settee, Paladin had his arm about an exhausted Eglantine. He looked up as Pippin came in.

"Would you like to meet your new niece, son?" He gestured to the other room with his chin.

Almost shyly, Pippin tapped at the door, and entered diffidently at Milo's greeting. Pimmie lay in the bed looking pale and a bit disheveled, but happy, with a blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms. Milo, who had been sitting at the edge of the bed stood up.

"Come and meet little Flora, Pippin," he said softly.

Pippin went over to the bed, and Pimmie pulled back the blanket. He looked at the tiny red face, topped with a few downy reddish-gold curls. No doubt they would darken soon enough.

His sister smiled at him. "I heard your playing, through the door. It really helped, and made me feel better, Pip."

He smiled at her, gratified. "Did it? I'm ever so glad, Pimmie, if it did."

"Would you like to hold her?"

Pippin nodded, and Milo bent over and picked up his daughter, placing her carefully in Pippin's arms.

Pippin smiled down at the sleeping little one. "Happy Yule, Flora."


The pony chuffed and champed, his breath steamy in the cold air. The sun sparkled against the rare snowfall which blanketed the countryside.

Sam helped Tom, as he affixed the bells to the harness, and checked to make sure that the pony was hitched up properly to the sledge. "There," he said, "I think that's got it."

"Thanks, Sam!" answered his friend. "This is going to be a right treat!"

The two hobbits grinned at one another. It was unusual to have this much snow at Yule. Most of the time snow rarely fell until Afteryule, and even then it often did not accumulate enough to need a sleigh.

"I know," said Sam. "I think the last time we had this much snow at Yuletide was the year Mr. Bilbo fell ill over in Buckland. Must have been, oh, twenty-odd years ago. Mr. Frodo was only about twenty-four at the time."

"I remember. Mr. Bilbo had hired this very sledge off my dad for the journey."

"Well, it's to be hoped there's no such trouble this year for Mr. Frodo. But he's never ill."

Tom got into the driver's seat, and Sam hopped up beside him, and they drove the short distance from the Cotton's barn to the front door of the farmhouse.

Tom's sister Rose, and Sam's sister Marigold stood waiting, bundled up in coats and cloaks and hoods and mittens, and carrying between them a well-filled hamper. Sam got down, and put the hamper in the back of the sleigh, and Marigold took his seat beside Tom. Sam helped Rosie up into the back, and then swung up next to her. If the two young couples were sitting rather close together, well, that was only to be expected, as cold as it was!

From the window, Lily Cotton and the Gaffer watched, as the sleigh drove smartly off. The Gaffer's lips were pursed, and he looked a bit cross.

Lily shot him an amused look. "Don't you say a word, Hamfast! They deserve a bit of a treat and some time for courting! They're sensible lads and lasses, and won't be up to nothing improper, as well you know!"

"Well," growled the Gaffer, "they best be back before teatime's all I got to say on it."

The bells on the pony's harness jingled merrily, as he trotted down the lane. The young hobbits were quiet at first, simply enjoying the brightness of the snowy day. And then Marigold began to hum, and then to sing "It is the Turning of the Year", and soon the others had joined in. They sang it through all together twice, and then again as a merry round. When they got a bit muddled at the end, Sam and Tom not quite finishing together, all of them burst into laughter, before they began to sing another song.

When they tired of singing, Rose leaned into Sam's side. "This is ever so lovely, Sam!"

He put his arm carefully around her shoulders. They had their backs to Tom and Marigold, but Sam was quite sure the other two were sitting just as close.

Soon enough they had come to the Water. The clearing presented a serene picture. The Sun glinted blue off the snow, and the edges of the water were frozen. Snow and icicles decorated the bare branches of the alders growing there. There was an area there often used for picnicking by the hobbits of Hobbiton and Bywater. A couple of fallen logs lay next to a stone ring where small bonfires could be kindled.

While Tom saw to the pony, Sam took the faggot of wood they had brought from the back of the sleigh, and brushing the snow away from the fire ring, he started a fire. In the meantime, the lasses were taking food from the hamper: a stone jar of leek-and-potato soup, wrapped in flannel to keep it hot, and another of mulled cider; sandwiches of smoked pork; apple tarts; a half a round of cheese. While Rose set the food out, Marigold spread a couple of old pony blankets over the logs.

After they had eaten every last bit of the food, they sat together and talked for a while. Soon, Sam stood up.

"Would you like to walk about a bit, Rose?" He held his hand down to her, and the two of them wandered over to the edges of the Water, their backs to Tom and Marigold, who were now sitting much closer together.

Rose bit her lip. "They'll be playing at kissing games."

Sam snorted. "I trust Tom. He won't let Mari get carried away beyond what's decent."

She chuckled. "Your sister's a flirt, you know! I say it though she *is* my best friend."

"You aren't telling me nothing I don't know, Rose. I'm ever so glad it's your brother Tom she loves, for he's a steady sort, and he'll settle her down." He squeezed her hand, and wondered if he might dare steal a brief kiss himself. But he was careful of his Rose, and he had no mind to be anything but proper with her. Time enough and more, once they was betrothed and properly wed. To distract himself, he nodded at the frozen Water.

"You know, Mr. Frodo, he tells me that in Buckland when the water freezes, the lads tie rags about their feet and go a-sliding on the ice! They even play games on the ice!"

Rose's eyes widened. "That sounds ever so dangerous! What if the ice broke and they fell in?"

"Well, of course, them queer Bucklanders know how to swim. But he says they make sure it's froze hard enough, and they keep away from the thin ice at the center." Sam chuckled. "He says Mr. Merry is right good at them sorts of games. But then he would be--Mr. Merry's fond of winning."

Rose shook her head in bemusement. She was right fond of Mr. Frodo herself, and she'd never say a word against him, knowing as how Sam thought he hung the Moon, but she sometimes worried that Mr. Frodo being half Brandybuck might lead him into trouble one of these days--as much as being part Took had done for old Mr. Bilbo.

They talked a bit more, about the small doings of other folk, and then turned back. Tom and Marigold were not sitting quite so closely together as they had been, and their faces were a bit more flushed than just wind and cold would account for.

They did not talk much, but came to an agreement that it was best to get started, if they were to be back at the Cotton's farm before teatime. Soon the fire was doused, and the blankets and hamper back in the sledge. This time, Tom and Marigold sat in the back, and Sam and Rose occupied the driver's seat.

Sam shook the reins, and the pony trotted off, happy to be moving again in the cold. Rose leaned against him as they rode, and the early darkness of winter began to make itself known. The evening stars were beginning to twinkle against a purple sky as they arrived, "and not before time!" as the Gaffer said, when they came in, flushed and rosy from the cold, and glad of the hearth and a warm pot of tea.


Day dawns to bright anticipation for hobbits old and young.
Through the passages, led by the scent of first breakfast
they scurry: warm bread and cinnamon and sausages,
bacon and eggs and tea lure them.
Corners filled, it's time for gifts:
for children's smiles and songs,
for laughter and joy.
New Year comes,
long night's

Conspiracy Yule

24 Foreyule, S.R. 1417

"Sam..." The door to the garden shed opened, letting in a blast of cold air.

Sam put down the hoe he was sharpening and oiling, and turned, wiping his hands on his breeches.

"Good morning, Mr. Merry! When did you get here?"

"Oh, Pip and I just arrived. He's headed on up to the smial. I'm collecting cousins."

Sam chuckled at Merry's wry tone. "Yes, Mr. Frodo told me that the Thain and Lady Eglantine are keeping Yule at the Great Smials this year." Pippin's parents were reluctant to allow him to travel alone during the winter, though he'd not been ill for at least three years.

"I just wanted to thank you for writing to me, Sam."

Sam's smile faded. "We did agree, Mr. Merry, that I'd let you know if he was doing aught different--and he's shown no sign of making his usual trip to Buckland." In fact, most years, Frodo would have already been on his way by now.

"I agree that's out of the ordinary, but your letter seemed to hint at more."

Sam nodded. "He's been having old Mr. Bilbo's maps of the Outlands out, and looking 'em over. He's been asking after any word of travellers coming through the Shire--'specially Dwarves. I also think as how he was trying to meet up with Elves--he took a goodly time walking back from Buckland this fall." And now Sam raised a finger significantly. "And the other day, he said as how he wondered why he'd heard naught from Gandalf."

Indeed, Gandalf had been absent from the Shire for nine years now. And Frodo had only one letter from him the whole time.

"And finally," and Sam frowned here, "he's been looking sad and singing Mr. Bilbo's old walking songs to hisself."

Merry gave a low whistle. "He's going to do it, Sam! Come warmer weather, he's going to pack up and follow Bilbo. I just know it."

"You really do think so, sir."

"It's why he's putting off his visit to Brandy Hall. He's afraid I'll figure it out."

"Mr. Merry, what do you think will happen?"

Now Merry grinned. "Simple enough--we keep close watch on him, and as soon as he shows imminent signs of flying, we let him know we're coming along to keep him company. You, Pip and I. We'll pick up Cousin Bilbo's trail, and find him wherever he is." Merry paused, and looked grave. "You know, Frodo's going to want to stay with the old fellow for however much longer he's got."

"He's a hundred and twenty-eight, Mr. Merry--if he's still alive. Even the Old Took didn't last much longer than that."

Merry sighed, but before he could answer, they heard Frodo calling down to them: "Merry! Sam! Come up for elevenses! We've mulled cider and toasted cheese!"

"Ah, Sam," said Merry, "now how can we refuse such a treat?"

Sam put away the hoe, and the two hobbits trotted up to the kitchen door. The plans were all laid, after all. What could go wrong?

Summary: It's hard to say good-bye, and even harder to wait for returning feet...(a drabble)


It was the same large window, facing south, at which the old hobbit had stood, from dawn to dusk, for the last five days. If food was brought, he would eat, but he did not leave to seek his meals.

Sometimes an Elf would come and stand by him companionably, but he did not speak.

Today the sunset lent a glow to the frosty vista, and he shivered pulling his jacket close.

He felt a warm, slender hand upon his shoulder.

Tears sprang to his eyes. "It's Yule."

"I know, my friend," said Arwen, a catch in her own voice.


This is immediately followed by: 



Part 1: Brandy Hall

The Yule log blazed brightly. Hobbit voices rose in song. Children ran about the Hall, and tweens moved the tables for dancing.

The Master of Buckland spoke jovially to his guests. Only careful observation let Merimac see his brother's mask slip.

There, underneath the smile was longing and fear: fear for an only son, for a beloved nephew, for a cousin dear as son, and for their friend, gone to uncertain fate.

"No, I'm sure they'll be back," Saradoc proclaimed. "This time next year, they'll be telling their own adventures in the back parlor."

But Merimac saw his doubt.


Part 2: The Great Smials

Peridot Took watched her brother sadly. His face had grown hard and cold since that day when word had come from Buckland that young Pippin and his cousins and Frodo's servant had gone missing under dire circumstances.

Paladin had been furious, first with Pippin, then with Merry and Frodo, and Saradoc. But Peridot knew his temper, his despair: Paladin's certainty Pippin was dead.

But Peridot was sure her nephew was alive. In danger, perhaps, but this time next year, he'd be home.

She picked up her lap harp, and played one of Pippin's favorite tunes, smiling defiance at Paladin's glare.


Part 3: Number Three, Bagshot Row

Second Yule, and they'd just finished elevenses in silence. Her old dad wasn't much for talking nowadays--not since the bad news had first come from Buckland.

Mr. Berilac had come to tell them: Mr. Frodo's house attacked, him and Sam and Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin fled into the Old Forest.

There'd been hard words then, and dark looks upon the Hill. The Gaffer said as how it was all Mr. Lotho's fault.

Yesterday, at Daisy's, no one had so much as mentioned Sam's name.

This morning, the Cottons came.

"Mark my words," Rosie said. "this time next year, our Sam will be home."


Part 4: Bag End

Lobelia sniffed disdainfully at the stack of letters on her desk. Refusals. For every invitation she had sent, had come "regrets".

Porto's health was poor. Ponto and his daughter Angelica were hosting the Burrowses--his sister Peony's family, so of course, Peony had sent regrets as well. The Boffins had already accepted invitations to the Bolgers. The Bolgers said Fredegar was "still getting over his fright".

She was no fool. She'd heard the gossip connecting Lotho with the bad news from Buckland.

Stuff and nonsense! This time next year, they'd forget all about it. Lotho was, after all, head of the Bagginses!


Next in order is:



It was a new tradition, begun the first year of Thain Peregrin I: one year the Master of Buckland and his family would come to the Great Smials for Yule, and the following year, the Thain and his family would travel to Buckland. It had been several years now, and this year it was the Tooks turn to host the Brandybucks once more.

The Great Smials were all a-bustle with preparations. The head housekeeper, Mistress Moss, was explaining some things to several of the newer servants.

"Now, don't you get the wrong idea about Master Brandybuck, him as they call 'the Magnificent' in Buckland. He's not at all stuck-up or prideful. Him and our Thain is first cousins and best friends since they was just wee children. But he's right particular about Yule. Seems he can never be as happy with it here; thinks they do Yule much better at Brandy Hall. If we have things all decorated up, then it's 'too much'; and if we just have up a couple of wreaths and a garland or two, then it's 'not enough'. So if he seems to grumble a bit, don't take it to heart. He don't mean to be unkind." She grinned. "Besides, mayhap he'll be so pleased with the Thain's surprise for him he won't remember to complain this year!"

Pippin was ruminating upon the very same thing, as Diamond was making sure the children were well bundled up before they all ventured out to await the Brandybucks' arrival.

"I really do think I'll do it this year! I really think he'll be pleased with his surprise, Diamond!"

"Of course he'll be pleased. (Fam, leave your sister alone! Pet, button the top button on your coat--it is *not* too tight! Primrose, help Pansy find her other mitten!) You know, dearest, why he's so hard to please, really."

Pippin sighed, and a brief look of longing came over his own face. "It's the time of year he misses Frodo the most," he said wistfully.

"You miss him too, Pippin," and she stood on her tiptoes to give him a brief kiss. "Besides, I think you are right about his surprise."

In the Brandybuck coach, Merry sat back, arms folded, and lips pursed. Only tiny Niphredil was in the coach with her parents. Just barely a faunt, she was deemed much too young to ride up front with the driver like her sister and brother. Wyn and Perry thought it a great treat to sit by old Tip and watch him handle the ponies.

Estella arched an eyebrow at her husband. "Now, Merry, do remember your promise."

"I won't complain," he said flatly, "even though the Tooks never do get Yule just right."

His wife shook her head. "We have a Buckland Yule and they have a Tookish one! It's time you started behaving yourself! This turnabout was your idea, after all, so that the two of you could spend Yule together without neglecting your own responsibilities! I think that you hurt Pippin's feelings when you don't appreciate his attempts to impress!"

Merry flushed, but said "Pip understands me."

"Well, he shouldn't *have* to 'understand', Merry Brandybuck, and you know it!"

And the Master of Buckland had no response to this wifely rebuke. He knew she was right. He always felt ashamed of himself for his churlishness afterward. The truth was, Yule nowadays never seemed to have quite the charm of those of his childhood. But somehow at Brandy Hall, it was easier to imagine Frodo's presence.

The Thain and his Lady stood upon the front step before the Great Doors, their children lined up in front of them, fidgeting and giggling. Pippin felt like fidgeting himself, and rocked back and forth on his feet, until Diamond elbowed him lightly.

Faramir was grinning ear to ear. "I can't wait to see Perry's face when he sees Uncle Merry's surprise!"

"Neither can I, Fam," his father replied, also grinning.

The coach pulled up the drive with a flourish, and Wyn and Perry whooped their greetings to their cousins, causing old Tip to wince. As the coach rolled to a stop, the door opened, and Merry hopped out to take Dilly, and to lend Estella a hand. Wyn and Perry swarmed down from their perch into the waiting arms of their Took cousins, chattering away in high-pitched voices.

As Estella and Diamond exchanged greetings, Merry and Pippin shared a back-slapping embrace. Merry drew back, and with a quite genuine smile, said "It *is* good to see you again, Pip! It seems like its been forever!"

Pippin nodded. "September," he said. It had been an especially busy year for Thain and Master alike, and they'd last seen one another at Bag End, when they had joined the Gamgees to commemorate the Birthday. "Sam and his family will be joining us this year--and so will the Bolgers."

"That's wonderful!" he said enthusiastically, though his heart gave a lurch at the thought of the one who would *not* be joining them.

He thought he'd hidden the reaction pretty well, but Pippin patted his shoulder sympathetically, and allowed Merry to see his own sorrow surface briefly.

Then Pippin turned to his son, who had appeared at his side, hopping up and down, and now tugging his sleeve eagerly. "Yes, Fam," he laughed. "Now!"

Faramir darted inside like a stone from a sling, and Merry turned to Pippin. "*What* was that all about?"

Pippin beamed. "Just a surprise that won't wait for First Yule."

Merry scarcely had time to decide whether to be curious, when the doors opened, and Faramir came out leading--

"Legolas? Gimli?" He could hardly believe his eyes at the sight of the Elf and Dwarf. Then he darted over to them, laughing and weeping, into their open arms. Legolas knelt down, and Gimli was pounding him on the back. "How?" He turned to Pippin, whose expression was nothing if not smug. "However did you keep this a secret?"

"It wasn't easy! Now, are you happy with your surprise?"

Merry could only grin through his tears. Estella came up beside him, Niphredil in her arms. "I don't believe you've met my youngest. Dilly, this is your Uncle Legolas and your Uncle Gimli." Eyes wide, she stared up in astonishment.

The next few days of Yule passed by in a whirlwind: the Gamgees and the Bolgers arrived on First Yule, and there was much feasting and dancing, and a marvelous Yule log, and not a word of complaint was heard from Master Meriadoc the Magnificent.

The night of Second Yule, as the guests were enjoying quiet conversation in the Thain's family apartments, Merry stepped over to the window, to look out at the night. He felt Pippin's familiar presence at his shoulder. "I do still miss him, Pip, but he wouldn't thank me for letting his shadow spoil the holiday."

"No, he wouldn't. He'd scold you firmly, and tell you to enjoy what you have."

"Pippin, I owe--"

"Don't apologize, Merry. I *do* understand. But I'm glad you've had a happier time of it this year."

"It's been lovely to see them. The last time was when Fam was just out of faunthood and we all went to Gondor." He turned and looked at Pippin. "But you know, I really *do* owe you an apology."

Pippin shrugged. "If it will make you feel any better, I shall try to be grumpy at Brandy Hall next year."

Merry chuckled. "I'm not sure our wives would appreciate it."

"You could be right, at that."

"I'll tell you what: why don't we start a new tradition this year, of not being grumpy at Yule at all."

And now Pippin laughed outright. "Wouldn't that be something, cousin? I think that I shall take you up on it."

 Summary: One last Yuletide carol to see the Season out and the New Year in...and my wishes for all of you, my hobbity friends, for the coming year!


Come now, good hobbits, be of much cheer,
And let's raise a toast to the coming New Year~
May each day dawn bright and fair,
Free from want and free from care!
May the year be short on sorrow,
And long on joy with each new morrow!
May the Shire know peace and plenty,
That no larder may go empty!
And blessed be the earth we till,
That each belly may have its fill!
May the ties of family, too,
Be strengthened by hearts warm and true!
May each hobbit have a hand to hold,
And love for all, both young and old!
Let the halls with laughter ring,
As to the New Year we gladly sing!


Here are a couple of other Yule carols from the past:


And one final little Yule fic from 2005, set in my "Eucatastrophe" universe: 


Frodo Gamgee learns something about the High King...(If this story seems to bear a more than passing resemblance to a familiar seasonal song, it is not a coincidence.)



Foreyule, S.R. 1442

Frodo Gamgee stared out the window at the lightly swirling snowflakes--there were only a few so far, and they melted as soon as they touched the ground. He wondered what they were doing at Bag End. His parents and the others should have arrived at home a few days ago--his mother would probably be starting on the Yule baking. And Elanor would be settling back in at home, and likely flitting about to see all the friends she had been missing for the past year while she'd been in Gondor maid-of-honouring to the Queen.

He sighed, and reminded himself that it had been his choice to go to the Northern court. Elanor'd had her turn this past year in the South, while her parents were in Gondor, and now it was his chance to prove himself--he was nearly twenty, after all! And while Annú minas mightn't be so grand a city as Minas Anor, still it was grand enough for him. He glanced down at himself, and fingered the embroidery of the stars-and-Tree on his surcoat. One of the High King's pages he was, now. And at the moment the High King's *only* page, seeing as they were not at Court.

For this had been Uncle Merry's and Uncle Pippin's surprise gift to the King when he had arrived in Arnor on his progress: a hunting lodge, about twenty miles north of the Brandywine Bridge. It was not too far from Girdley Island, a sprawling dwelling well able to accommodate both Big Folk and Little, as long as they were not accompanied by a horde of servants--a place where, as Uncle Pippin had put it, the good King Elessar could put aside his worries and be once more Strider the Ranger for a little while--only with a few more comforts! It was much nearer than the Northern Citadel on the far shores of Lake Evendim, and so would make the perfect spot for visits between old friends.

His sharp hobbit ears heard the soft tread of his liege, as the King entered the large front room where Frodo stood. He turned. "How is Uncle Merry, sire?" he asked.

"Embarrassed," replied the King. "It's only a light sprain, after all. I think your Uncle Pippin was more upset than he was. A day of bed rest, and keeping his ankle up will see Merry right very soon. But I gave both of them a light sleeping draught."

Frodo nodded. Poor Uncle Pippin had been distraught when he had helped his hobbling cousin inside. The two had been out in the cold, and, as his own father often called it in exasperated tones, "playing about like a couple of tweens". Actually, as Uncle Merry had said with dignity, they had been sparring, when he put a foot wrong.

"Serves me right," he had winced, as Aragorn had checked his injury. "I've neglected to keep in fighting shape the last few years."

Uncle Pippin had nodded seriously, but said nothing, as he bit his lip and hovered over his older cousin like a hen with one chick. But Frodo-lad had been reassured when he met the King's eyes, and seen the twinkle there.

"I scarcely think, Sir Meriadoc, that we are in any peril here," he said mildly. "And if unexpected foes should suddenly appear, I still have the doughty Sir Peregrin and the brave Captain Bergil. Not to mention the son of Samwise the Stout-hearted."

Frodo felt a brief instant of warm pride, at both the praise of his father, and the implication that he was worthy of similar regard--though in his heart he knew he was young and untried.

"Well, but we promised, Strider," said Pippin, "that you'd not need a horde of guards with you when we came here."

"Nor do I," and without so much as a by-your-leave, he'd picked Uncle Merry up, and with Uncle Pippin trotting at his heels, had carried the injured hobbit off to his bed.

Now Uncle Strider--no, Frodo reminded himself--the King, for the next year, he must only think of him as the King--turned to the door, and summoned Captain Bergil inside.

"Everything shall be quite well, Bergil," the King said. "Merry has merely sprained his ankle, slipping on the icy ground as they sparred. However, this may put his return home off a few days longer. I want you to ride down to the messenger-house by the Stonebow Bridge, and see that word is taken to Mistress Estella. I don't wish her to worry unnecessarily, and I am afraid she might box my ears," he laughed, "if I should fail to inform her!"

Frodo-lad suppressed a chuckle at the thought of Aunt Estella boxing the King's ears--but she *would* be cross if no one thought to tell her of her husband's mishap!

Bergil looked doubtful at this order, though he said nothing, but stood with arms folded, regarding the King--who correctly interpreted his look. "I shall be quite safe here. Now, if any should seek to chastise you for leaving my side, you have a direct order from me."

"Very well, sire." But Frodo could tell that it set ill with the captain to go off and leave the King unguarded.

King Elessar, on the other hand, was grinning. "Now off with you, Bergil!" And of course, the Guardsman had no choice in the matter.

Uncle--no, the King--confound it, it was hard to think of him as King when he had that sort of smile, that come to think of it, reminded him a lot more of Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin than it did of a King--the King turned and looked about himself as though he had achieved a mighty victory. But Frodo hoped that the Queen would not be too cross at Bergil for going off and leaving them. King Elessar looked at his face, and chuckled, "If she is angry with anyone, it will be with me, Frodo, and not poor Bergil."

Frodo was astonished. How had he known what he was thinking?

There was another chuckle. "You show every thought right on your honest face, lad, just like your father!"

Now Frodo found himself blushing to the tips of his ears.

"I'm going to go check on your uncles. Why don't you see to making some luncheon for us?"

The young hobbit grinned, and made a bee-line for the kitchen--he'd been itching to get busy there ever since Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin had given them the grand tour this morning when they arrived. It was a splendid kitchen, and built so that hobbits would feel right at home cooking in it. There was a Big Folk sized table, and the dishes and pans were in two sizes, but the hearth and the stove and the pump at the sink were meant to be used by hobbit hands.

"We figured," said Merry, "that you'd be having hobbit guests with you whenever you stayed here."

"Ah," the King had replied, and he had raised an eyebrow at the unabashed Master and Thain.

"Of course," Uncle Pippin had said breezily. "Who else would be doing the cooking here?"

But while Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin were showing the kitchen off, Frodo-lad had occupied himself with an inventory of the adjacent--and well-stocked--larder, and thought of all the wonderful things it might be possible to make. He had seen that plenty of provisions had been laid in--cheeses, and smoked hams, and preserves, and dried beans and mushrooms, and bottles of wine, and casks of beer and ale, and eggs and milk and flour, as well as loaves of bread, and baskets of root vegetables--carrots, onions, potatoes, turnips and other good things. Near the hearth was a well-filled woodbox, and Frodo soon had fires roaring in both the fireplace and the stove. By the time that the King joined him, he was busy chopping vegetables for a hearty soup, and had cut one of the loaves for toasting.

"They are both sound asleep. The chamomile, vervain and willow-bark did the trick, lad."

Frodo nodded, as he put the soup upon the stove, and the bread on the toasting forks. "I know Uncle Pippin was worried."

"They both worry about one another--they always have, as long as I have known them. They worried a good deal about Frodo as well, as did your father." The King sat in one of the big chairs near the large window, and stretched out his long legs, taking out his pipe to fill. Soon the kitchen was filled with the mingled smell of vegetable soup, Old Toby, and ale. The King gave Frodo-lad the half he'd be allowed in the Shire, and was rewarded by a smile.

As the soup simmered, Frodo listened to his King harking back to the days of the Quest, and telling him stories of that perilous journey. Frodo had read the Red Book, and more than once, but it was quite different listening to it from the King's point-of-view.

"I thought I knew something of hobbits, Frodo-lad, until I began to travel with them. And then I was constantly being surprised by them. It was not until we left Rivendell that I began to learn what tireless foragers they were…"

As Frodo served up the soup and toast, they ate together in companionable silence. He looked at this big Man--so tall, and so kind, and so familiar--and yet, recalling him on his throne in the Northern Citadel, with his beautiful Queen by his side, he knew also King Elessar's regal side. He recalled his father telling him once that sometimes it seemed as if Strider and the King were two different people. "But don't you forget, son, even when he was being Strider, way back then afore any of us had a clue, there was still something noble and high about him. And even when he's at his fiercest kingliness, at heart, he's still Strider as well. He never forgets what it was like to be a ragged wanderer, and made mock of by ignorant and suspicious folk--such as I was then! Don't forget Mr. Bilbo's words, 'All that is gold does not glitter', Frodo-lad."

Just as Frodo was about to offer to fetch seconds of the soup from off the stove, he saw the King sit forward, and gazed sharp-like out the window.

Frodo looked, too. The snow was swirling a bit more thickly, but there at the edge of the copse of woods to the north of the lodge, he could see it--a Man, limping, gathering up fallen wood from beneath the trees. The cloak he was wearing was ragged and threadbare, and he had no hood, nor hat upon his head.

"Look, Frodo-lad! Do you have any idea who that is? Where does he dwell?"

Frodo put his face closer to the window, and tried to think. "I think I know who he is--Uncle Merry says he lives about a league from here, near the forest eaves, by Lost Lamb Spring. He keeps to himself, so Uncle Merry says, and will hide if he sees hobbits coming."

The King looked intently, as the figure, burdened with the pitifully small amount of wood he could manage, vanished into the copse beyond. "Frodo, I have an idea."




Frodo felt a touch of alarm; somehow to hear the King say "I have an idea" in the same tone of voice his own younger brothers often used just before committing some inventive bit of mischief, did not bode well.

"An idea, sire?" he asked aloud.

"I am thinking we could see to it yon fellow has a fuller belly and a warmer night than he looks to have now."

That didn't sound so bad. In fact, thought Frodo, it might very well *be* a good idea. "How?" he asked.

The King leaned back, took a pull on his pipe, and sent forth a smoke-ring. "This place is more than well-stocked. Why the five of us will scarcely use all these provisions in the few days we shall be here! We could take him some meat and other provender, a few bottles of wine, and some of the firewood as well."

Frodo grinned for a moment, as he could imagine the look of astonished delight on the poor fellow's face. Still, he couldn't help but hear a little voice of caution. It sounded, as the voice of caution often did, remarkably like his father. "It seems like a good thing to do, sire. But--er--are you sure it'd be quite proper for us to go off like that, what with the captain gone, and all…" He stopped at the look of amusement on Unc--the King's face. He flushed. "Beg pardon for presuming, sire…"

The King chuckled. "No, Master Gamgee, it's *not* altogether proper; but I think it will do no harm. It is only a league, you say. Why we can be there and back by suppertime!" He leaned back, and took another puff on his pipe.

Frodo-lad noticed he'd said nothing of teatime. He tried one more thing. "But what if Uncle Pippin or Uncle Merry should wake? They'd be dreadfully worried to find us gone!" Not to mention, thought Frodo, cross.

The King tapped out his pipe and stood up. "And so we will leave them a note. In fact, I shall leave it to you to write. If you will bring out the meat and wine and other provender, I shall see to fetching some firewood. Be sure to wear a warm cloak, lad! I would not care to answer to your parents if you should catch a chill."

Frodo watched as the Man went out the back door, and sighing, the lad went to the larder to obey his liege's commands. Soon he'd filled a large basket with a smoked ham, a cheese, some of the loaves, a couple of jars of brambleberry preserves and four bottles of wine. He hefted it onto the table in the kitchen, and then fetched paper, pen and ink.

"Dear Uncle Pippin,

The King sent Captain Bergil down to the Bridge to take word of Uncle Merry's sprain to Aunt Estella.

The King and me have gone to Lost Lamb Spring, to take some food and firewood to the poor fellow that lives up there. Uncle Merry knows where that is. The King says we will be back by suppertime. It is his idea.

I left some soup on to simmer at the back of the stove in case you are hungry.

I hope Uncle Merry's ankle is feeling better.


Frodo Gamgee."

He placed the note in the middle of the table, and then placed a platter to hold the corner of the note down. He fetched some more bread, some cheese and butter, which he then placed on the platter, and set out plates and mugs as well. That way it would be easy for Uncle Pippin to fix tea for himself and Uncle Merry. He went over to the stove, and moved the soup to the back, so that it would still simmer, but would not scorch, and then tried to think if there was anything else needed doing.

He glanced out the window, and saw the King coming towards the lodge, pulling behind him a sled, used for hauling things in the winter. It had quite a stack of pine-logs on it. Frodo noticed that the snowflakes were falling more quickly now, and that there seemed to be some of it sticking to the ground. He grinned--they rarely got any snow in Hobbiton.

The King came in, with a blast of cold air, and smiled to see Frodo's preparations. "It looks as though we are nearly ready, then, Frodo." He took the basket down from the table, and carried it out the kitchen door to the sled.

"What is the sled for, sire?" Frodo asked.

"Why to pull the provisions with, of course."

"We aren't riding?" Frodo was surprised, for he had thought they would.

The King shook his head. "Not to go just a league, I think."

Frodo nodded. Although Uncle Merry had given him a splendid pony, to take with him to the court at Annúminas, Frodo was unused to riding. He didn't mind the idea of walking.

"Now, Frodo, go quickly and fetch your cloak! We shall be off directly."

Frodo dashed to the small room that had been assigned to him, and as he snatched up his cloak--his mother had made it of sturdy brown wool, and lined the hood with squirrel for warmth--he noticed the two spare blankets, folded at the foot of his bed. Remembering the threadbare state of the Man they had seen, he gathered up the blankets as well, before dashing back through the kitchen and out the back door, where the King awaited.

The King smiled in approval at the blankets. "Good thinking, Frodo! That is just the sort of thing your father would have done! Sam was always prepared, and he always seemed to know what would be needed!"

Frodo's face lit up at this praise, and he drew on his gloves, which he kept in the pocket of his cloak. They were knitted of soft red wool by Aunt Estella. He drew the fur-lined hood of his cloak up, and blessed his mother for thinking of that, as a blast of chill air hit his cheeks. He tipped up his face, and felt the snowflakes land there and then melt.

The King took up the rope on the sled, and set forth, with Frodo walking easily at his side. Frodo glanced back at the lodge, seeing the tracks they were making in the new-fallen snow, which was gradually growing deeper.

"What do you know of this fellow, Frodo?"

"Not very much, sire. Uncle Merry brought Perry, Wyn, Rose-lass and I up here for a few days while the building was going on, and we did a bit of exploring as far as the edge of the wood. It was back in the summer-time, and one day we had a picnic by the spring. While we were there, we had a glimpse of him--he was just within the trees--and hid away as soon as he saw us, but Rosie was frightened, so we came back to the lodge right away. We asked Uncle Merry about him. He said that the Bounders knew that the fellow lived there, in a small hut not far from Lost Lamb Spring, and that he kept to himself and seemed harmless."

" 'Tis closer to the Shire than I'd care to see Men settling," said the King gravely. "but if it's only the one fellow, and he leaves the Shire alone, I shan't worry about it." His brow furrowed. "I may know what that hut is--the Rangers once had a small waystation in that area, but I am sure it was long abandoned." He glanced down at the small lad at his side. "Frodo, are you entirely certain about spending the year in Annúminas? Your parents were away for over a year, with Elanor and Robin and little Tolman. And here I have taken you away from them when they have only just returned home."

"Well, I missed them. I missed them all something fierce. And I suppose I will miss them something fierce now, too. But, well, Elanor had her chance, and I want mine. And I miss you as well, Unc--I mean, sire--and I mean to spend some time with you, because it's a long way to Gondor, and you'll only be here for two years before you're gone again. Sam-dad thinks it'll be good for me, too. He says I need educating, and that I should find out more about Men and their history, 'cause it's going to be important to hobbits now that the world has changed."

"Sam is a very wise hobbit, Frodo."

"Dad says hobbits only have pipe-weed 'cause of the Dúnedain." Frodo had been curious about that, ever since his father had told him.

The King laughed. "He's quite right. The Númenoreans brought not only pipe-weed, but athelas and potatoes and tomatoes and maize and several other plants to Middle-earth."

"Really? 'Taters too?"

"Yes, indeed." The King smiled, and briefly placed a hand on Frodo's head.

Frodo pondered that, and the two walked in silence for a while, for the wind had picked up and made conversation more difficult.


Good King Elessar, Part III
Here is part three of "Good King Elessar"--Aragorn and Frodo-lad find the going a bit more difficult than anticipated...


As the wind howled around them more loudly, Frodo shivered, and drew his clock more closely. The snow was deeper now--over his ankles, and he was finding the going much slower.

He tried to distract himself, by remembering how his father and the other Companions had tried to cross the mountains. Caradhras had been ever so much crueller, he was sure!

He remembered a day, a few years back, when he had listened to his father, and Uncles Merry and Pippin talking about their journey.

He had been about fifteen at the time, and the weather had been cold and nasty. He himself was only just getting over a cold, and so had been left at Bag End when his mother had taken the other children to visit their grandparents in Bywater. That was why he'd been in the front room, tucked up on the settee next to his father, half-drowsing. He supposed that they thought he was actually asleep, for his father and honorary uncles rarely talked about the more difficult parts of their famous adventure when they thought any of the children might hear.

"It's right nippy out today. I'm just as glad I don't have call to be out in it," said his father.

"It's not just nippy, Sam, it's downright cold!" said Uncle Pippin.

"There's cold," said Uncle Merry, "and there's *Caradhras* cold!" He shuddered and leaned down from his chair to pick up the poker and prod the fire.

There was a brief silence, and then Frodo's father had said, "I never knew there could *be* so much snow in all the world, nor that it could get so deep and heavy! I was right worried about Mr. Frodo. Fair blue he was!"

"We were *all* 'fair blue', Sam, and you as much as the rest," said Pippin softly. "I don't mind confessing it: I'd never known what cold was before we went up the Redhorn Pass."

"I was right scared. It was the first time I thought that *I* might be going to die." Sam-dad's voice seemed distant, and Frodo-lad thought over those words with a shock. He thought back to what he had seen in the Red Book. It was true: Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin had been caught in Old Man Willow, and poor Uncle Frodo had been stabbed at Weathertop. All of them had been in peril in the Barrow-downs, but his father had been unconscious at the time, and had not known of his danger till later. But going up that mountain? It had been mortal peril for all of them, and they had known it.

"We'd not have survived without Boromir's foresight," said Merry.

"He was quite cross with Gandalf," Pippin added. "So was I, for that matter."

"And everyone was cross with Legolas," added Merry.

This had made everyone chuckle, and the serious moment passed, but Frodo never forgot that note of fear in their voices, that they only allowed to come out when they thought they were just speaking among themselves…

Frodo shuddered, drawing his cloak in even tighter on himself. He could barely see for the swirling snow, and in spite of the hood, his face burned with cold. He could not even *feel* his feet. He tried to look to the side, to where the King had been walking, and realized he'd fallen behind. He nearly stumbled.

"S-sire!" he tried to call out, but he felt the words blowing away as they left his mouth. He gasped, and took a deep breath of frigid air. The King was walking on without him, all unknowing. He felt a moment of sheer panic.

But his faint call had been enough--the King was only a few steps ahead after all, and heard the faint plea, stopped, and turned.

Suddenly, Frodo felt the wind blocked, as the King knelt before him, holding out his arms, he pulled the lad into his embrace. "Ah, Frodo-lad, I am so sorry! I am not so weather-wise as I once was--I was sure this snowstorm would hold off until much later!

He pulled his own cloak closer around them both, "Please forgive me, lad."

Frodo gasped, and nodded his head. He did not trust his voice to work. He was feeling much warmer now that the wind was blocked. The King picked him up, and carried him over to the sled, and sat him down atop the pile of firewood. He chaffed Frodo's feet, and took up one of the blankets and wrapped it round Frodo over his cloak.

"Your old Uncle Strider has been too long away from the wilds of the North! I had forgotten how suddenly these snows can come on! I should never have made a mistake like this!" He took a flask from his pocket, and offered Frodo-lad a sip. "Just a very small taste, lad! Too much will make things worse."

Frodo nearly sputtered at the bitter taste of the liquor, but it warmed him going down. "That's all, lad. It isn't miruvor, and the effects won't last long, but it should put a little heart into you."

"Thank you, sire!" Frodo felt a warmth spreading out through him from the brandy. "I am sorry to be so much trouble."

"You are not trouble at all, my lad, and any trouble I shall have from this venture will be entirely my own fault. I shall count myself lucky if your father does not take Sting to me!" He smiled at Frodo in a way that reminded the lad of his Uncle Pippin.

Frodo-lad giggled; he felt the teensiest bit light-headed. "No, I don't think he'd do that, but Mam might take a broomstick to you!"

The King--no, at the moment he was definitely Uncle Strider--laughed loudly, and the laughter rang out and was carried off by the wind. "And I should not dare to complain if she does, for I most certainly deserve it for being so hasty."

He looked serious once more, though. "Now, Frodo, we are very nearly to our destination; I think it better that we continue, rather than turn back. You could ride upon the sled as I pull it, but I think that you will stay warmer if you keep moving. What say you?"

"Yes, sir, I think so too."

"Very well, then, we shall start up again. Keep that blanket round you over your cloak. I shall go out in front of you, and I want you to walk directly behind me, so that I block out the worst of the wind. Stay between me and the sled, and walk in my footsteps."

Frodo nodded, and hopped down from the sled, and they set forth once more. He did not try to see where he was going; instead, he kept his face down, and simply placed each foot in first one and then another, of the imprints set before him.

He was still cold, but he felt much warmer than he had, as the wind could no longer reach him so easily. And each of the treads in which he stepped made him feel confident and safe.

The journey continued, and Frodo thought once again of his father's and the others' trek up that treacherous mountain--and their trek down again! At least he was not having to be carried, like they were!

After walking a while longer--Frodo was not sure *how* long--the King paused, and pointed to his right. "Yonder lies the spring." Frodo turned and glanced in that direction--he could see the glitter of ice round the edges, but it appeared the spring was still flowing. It would have to be much colder to freeze the running water.

They walked on, and Frodo realized the snow was lessening, though it seemed to be growing darker. No, they had reached the eaves of the wood.

"We are nearly there, lad. Do you need to rest before we push on?"

Frodo shook his head. "No, sire. Don't be stopping on my account."

They trudged on a bit more slowly beneath the trees--but it was much less windy, and there was not so much snow on the ground here where the branches formed a lattice above their heads. The going was easier, even though they had to make their way carefully around the trees--the sled did not pull so well here, with the roots of the trees getting in the way.

Suddenly, the King stopped, and Frodo nearly ran into the back of his long legs. "There!"

Frodo looked. Directly ahead of them was a small ramshackle building, not much bigger than the toolshed at Bag End, though considerably taller, and it had a chimney, from which smoke curled up in silvery wisps. There were no windows, but there was a chink beneath the door, from which a faint line of light emerged.

The King nodded. "Yes, that *was* an old Ranger waystation! But I do not believe that Rangers have made use of it since the time of the Ring War." He gave a decisive nod. "Come, Frodo, let us see if our gifts are welcome." And he strode forward, as Frodo trotted up next to his side, and knocked briskly on the door.


They waited a moment, but there was no answer. The King rapped once more. They could hear someone moving about slowly. Finally, a voice spoke faintly through the door.

"Who is it?" was the hesitant query.

The King used his pleasantest voice. "We are friendly, and mean you no harm. It is very cold out here, and I have a young one with me."

The door cracked just the smallest bit; they could see the face of a Man outlined in the faint glow of a small fire. He looked careworn, and there was both fear and sorrow in the brown eyes. His brown hair and beard were shot with locks of grey, and he was bundled in drab and threadbare garments of a non-descript colour. He glanced at the King in puzzlement, and at Frodo with alarm.

"But he's a hobbit," he said. When he looked back at the King's face there was a touch of hostility. "What are you doing with a hobbit-child?" he asked. His wariness had turned to suspicion.

Frodo looked up at him, and suddenly realized that the Man was worried for him. "It is quite all right, sir! This is my friend." He was afraid if he told the Man this was the King he would frighten him.

The Man sniffed. "Some friend to bring you out in weather like this! Come in, come in out of the cold." He moved back opening the door more widely, and it was only then that he saw the sled. "What is that?"

The King smiled. "Just some things that might make the evening more pleasant--firewood, food, wine and blankets."

The Man stopped, his face a study in shock. He looked at the sled, and then in the faces of his visitors, as he came to a sudden realization. There was a brief silence, and then in a choked sob, he said, "You brought that for *me* didn't you?"

"Yes. We had more than enough for ourselves, it seemed right to share it. My name is Strider…"

The Man looked up again, startled, and studied the King's rugged face. "Why, it *is* you, Strider!"

It was the King's turn to be startled. "You know me?"

He shrugged. "I used to see you sometimes, in Bree. I doubt me that you'd've known me, though." He heaved a sigh, and then noticed Frodo-lad shivering. "Come in, come in out of the cold!" and he stepped back.

Frodo picked up the large basket from the sled, and the King turned and picked up an armload of the firewood, leaving the rest of it on the sled. Then he used a foot to close the door behind him.

As he carried the wood over to the small hearth, Frodo looked for a place to put the basket. There was no table--only two chairs and a small bedstead. He put the basket on one of the chairs, and turned to the Man with a small bow. "Frodo Gamgee at your service," he said politely.

The Man cleared his throat, "Er, Tom Appledore, Master Gamgee, at yours and your family's." His face reddened beneath the shaggy hair and beard.

Frodo watched as the King built up the fire. They had come in good time, for he could see that there were only a pitiful few sticks left of the wood the old Man had been gathering before. There was something in a pot, but there was scarcely enough heat to warm it--it was not giving off any aroma, and Frodo went over to look: water, with what appeared to be a few meagre chunks of turnip and carrot floating about in it.

" 'Tisn't much, young master," said the Man--Mr. Appledore, Frodo corrected himself. "But it's all I've left in my winter stores. 'Tis been a lean year." He limped up to look over Frodo's shoulder.

Frodo-lad smiled up at him. "Well, we'll make it stretch a bit, with what we've brought you!" He took the pot from the hearth and brought it over next to the basket. "Let's see: there's some 'taters, and more carrots, and some onions and beans. A bit of salt. We can add that and turn this into a fine soup, Mr. Appledore! And we can cut a bit of this lovely ham--it's sugar-cured ham from Newbury, it is! And some of the bread, for toasting…"

The King stood back from the fire, and smiled at Mr. Appledore. "It is as well to get out of the way of a hobbit cooking. Since we've no table, shall we spread this blanket on the floor? We may make a fine picnic here. It is very good to be in out of the cold, Mr. Appledore."

The old Man looked back with tears in his eyes. "You say that like I'm doing you a fine favour, when it's you what's brought me all this, Strider. I don't deserve to have no one be so good to me!"

"Here, let us sit down, while we wait upon our food," and the King sat down at one corner of the blanket, and after an instant, Mr. Appledore did the same.

"I got no plates," Mr. Appledore said, "and I only have one cup and one spoon…"

"We'll make do. I have eaten less well in the wilderness, sir."

Mr. Appledore shook his head. "You got no call to be 'sir-ring' me. I'm no one special."

As they finally sat to their make-shift meal, which their host ate eagerly, the King said, "How does it come that you live here, Mr. Appledore? For I know that of old this was a waystation for Rangers."

" An' you being a Ranger, you'd know that," was the reply. Their host looked worried. "But I got leave to stay here, I have!"

The King gave him a very direct look, and then nodded. "I know that you are telling the truth, yet I would know the rest of the story. How does a Bree-man such as yourself come to be living so far from home?"

Frodo saw tears spring to Mr. Appledore's eyes, and there was a look of such sorrow and regret there that it made his own eyes spark with tears. He blinked and rubbed a hand across them.

"Well, I see as there's nothing for it, then. But when you hear, you mayhap will be sorry for your kindness to me." He let out a deep breath…

"It were nigh on twenty-five years ago, when I lived in Bree, me and my old mother. My dad had died when I was little, and for years my ma did her best to take care o' me, but we was poor enough. My ma did mending and took in washing and it were hard, but we mostly had enough food to fill our bellies. Soon as I was old enough, I went to work myself.

I got myself a job in the stable at The Prancing Pony. Mr. Butterburr was a kind enough master, and paid fair, but a stable hand don't make much even so. But he gave me my lunch and supper, and some nights if there wasn't as much custom as they'd thought on, he'd let me take some supper home to ma. I was good friends with Bob Mugwort, who worked with me in the stable--I saw to the horses what come in, and he saw to the ponies, leastwise that was how it was supposed to be, but really we shared the work. And his brother Nob was friends with me, too. I didn't have too many friends among the other Big Folk, truth be told--I had no time for larking about, nor no money to spend, neither.

I was younger then, and I thought my life wasn't fair. Thought myself hard done by. I knew I'd never amount to much, nor would I ever be able to afford a wife, and I felt right sorry for myself a lot of the time.

Well, one day I suppose my grumbling come to the ears of Harry Goatleaf, 'cause he found me one day in the stable, and told me that he could find me better work.

O' course I was interested. He told me that a friend of his needed some carters, to do a bit of driving and delivering in the Shire. Then he told me what his friend would pay me--one trip would earn me as much as I'd've made in a year working at the Pony!

I suppose I should have thought on it more. Harry Goatleaf had never been very friendly to me afore, and I was not much liking the looks of the boss he introduced me to: a squint-eyed Southerner name of Krag. And the others that Harry was picking for the jobs were a rough lot. But I couldn't see past all the pretty silver coins Harry'd showed me, so I took up with them. My ma wasn't happy to see me leave, though I told her I'd be able to send her more money than she'd ever had afore. But she said 'I'd rather have my boy.'

And off we went, with a dozen empty waggons."

Frodo-lad was not sure he liked the way Mr. Appledore's story was going. He scooted a bit closer to Uncle Strider, who put an arm around his shoulders.

"Well, as I soon found out, we was in the Shire to do more than just delivering pipe-weed. I'd fallen in with a lot of ruffians and bullies, I had. But there weren't nothing for it then. I was too scared of the others to say much.

At first, there was some hobbits helping us. Most of 'em, I think was in the same boat I was--they didn't like having to drive carts for Men, nor what they had to do, but they was afraid to say them 'nay'. But there was a few hobbits what were just as much bullies as the ones what I come with. We met the boss hobbit--a pox-faced fella who talked like gentry. I didn't much like him, either, but I only saw him the one time. Mostly we got our orders from Krag. Krag seemed to think it was funny to make the hobbits afraid of us.

It didn't take long afore they started in not just delivering what we was given, but taking stuff. We'd tell 'em we was going to share it, but so far as I know it were carted off somewhere to the South--especially all the pipe-weed we could get hold of.

I couldn't make myself look happy about what we was doing, and the bullies was always trying to make me join in when they was--well, I don't like to say some o' what they got up to--

One day, we was told we was to start closing down the inns. We went to a town called Frogmorton. We had a hobbit with us, not the boss, but one who helped him--a pasty-faced miller with a sour disposition. There was this one hobbit he singled out there, and well, he set the Men on the poor fellow. I held back to the edges, but I couldn't stop it."

Frodo took a deep breath. This was hard to hear. He looked up at the King, whose face was grave as he studied Mr. Appledore. As for their host, his eyes were far away and haunted, and tears were falling unnoticed down his weathered cheeks.

"I'm sure they killed that poor hobbit, though he weren't dead when we left. I felt sick. And pretty soon, I *was* sick, listening to the others boasting of what they did. Lost my supper, I did, and they all began to mock me, that I had a weak stomach for the job. I told 'em I must've ate something as disagreed with me, but I don't think they believed me.

Next morning, they left me to watch our campsite when they went off to do some more of their 'gathering'. All I could think of was that poor hobbit, and thinking of how it would've felt if it had been my friend Bob back in Bree. I decided to get out while the getting was good.

I took off, and tried to make my way out of the Shire. It was hard--I had to avoid those Men that I'd come with, and I had to avoid hobbits, too. 'Cause there was hobbits who weren't under the Men's thumbs, and they was fighting back. I was hiding out in the hills up north one time, and stumbled into some of them. Took a hobbit's arrow in the leg--it never healed proper, that's why I limp. I finally managed to sneak across the Brandywine and slowly made my way back to Bree.

But I found the gates were shut to me when I asked to come in. Tam Thistlewool was on the gate, and he told me as I'd gone off with my new friends, I was no longer welcome. 'They killed your own cousin Rowlie, they did!' which was a shock, but not so much a shock as him telling me next that my old ma was dead as well. 'You broke her heart you did, going off like you did with that lot! Be off with you!'

I lived rough for a while, wandering about the Wild. I wondered how Rangers did it, for I found it a hard life. I thought mayhap if I came across any Rangers, I might ask to stay with them, but not a one did I see. Finally one day, I came across this hut, and thought to stay here a while. I been here ever since. Long about three or four years I'd been staying here, when Rangers came knocking. They told me that there was a King again, and that Ruffians had been run out of the Shire and Bree-land. They said they wasn't needing this place no more, and give me leave to stay here, but they told me never to cross the Brandywine into the Shire, as no Men could go there anymore--which is a good thing, considering.

I try to keep away from folks, especially hobbits, as it shames me to remember what I was a part of. I take care of myself; it's not so hard most of the time, to live--I can fish, and I have a little garden--but winter, well, winter's right hard. I do get lonesome sometimes in the winter…"

Mr. Appledore suddenly gave a choked sob. "It's hard, remembering," he wept.

Frodo leaned towards him, holding out a hand, which he lay on the Man's arm. "It's all right, Mr. Appledore. You never meant any harm, and you were frightened. But at least you were able to get away from those awful Ruffians before they made you do something horrible."

"Indeed," said the King. "I think it time your self-imposed exile comes to an end. You have suffered far more than a poor choice made in your youth would warrant."

The Man looked at them in wonder. "I don't deserve to have no one be so kind to me, but I thank you all the same, sir."

"Here," said Frodo-lad. He drew out his pocket-handkerchief and handed it to Mr. Appledore, who looked at it in surprise. It had probably been many years since he had seen such a thing, but he wiped his eyes and blew his nose after all.

The King reached into the basket, and drew out three pears, which were taken in equal delight by both Tom Appledore and by Frodo. "I hate to say this, Frodo-lad, but I am afraid we'll not make it back to the lodge in time for supper, with the weather as it is."

"Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin will be worried!"

Just then, there came a sharp knock upon the door.


The three startled at the sound. The King looked at Mr. Appledore. "Were you expecting any other guests?" he asked.

"I weren't expecting *you*, begging your pardon, sir. And you're the first people to stop here in four years."

Frodo watched as the King, his hand on his sword, rose and went to the door. "Who is it?" he called out.

Frodo could not hear the answer himself, but the King could, and he looked surprised. He stood back as he opened the door. "Bergil! Pippin!"

The two entered, covered with snow, and Frodo-lad found himself cringing at the looks on their faces. They looked to be more than a little cross.

"Strider!" said Uncle Pippin in stern tones, "I am very surprised at you doing such a thing! And dragging young Frodo along! I'm quite sure Sam will have some words for you over this!"

Bergil put a hand on Pippin's shoulder. "You forget yourself, Sir Peregrin! Remember whom you address!" But the glare he himself aimed at the King was not exactly respectful, Frodo thought.

"No, I don't forget!" Uncle Pippin's face was red. Frodo-lad tried to remember if he had ever seen his honorary uncle so angry before. "He's not behaved very much like the King I know, endangering himself like this over a whim!"

Mr. Appledore, who had also risen to gaze in astonishment at these two newcomers gave a strangled noise. "K-king?" and fell to the floor in a swoon. The thud as he hit the floor matched the thud the door made, as the wind whipped it back against the wall.

Frodo darted over to him. "Oh no! See what you've done, Uncle Pippin?"

The King and Uncle Pippin rushed to the poor Man's side. Captain Bergil took an moment to shut the door, and then he too, came over.

But Mr. Appledore was already coming round with a moan. The King gave him a sip of wine.

"You-you're the King, Strider?"


"But-but you came yourself, to bring me these things…"

"It's all right, Mr. Appledore. Please, do not trouble yourself on my account." He turned and looked at Bergil. "I will not deny your right to feel angry with me, Captain. But I would like to know why you disobeyed my order."

"I did not, sire," Bergil answered curtly. "I had ridden less than halfway, when I met a Shire Post rider, who had been sent with some messages to the lodge; it was a simple enough matter to make an exchange--I took the messages he bore, and he took mine and headed straight for Brandy Hall. I turned around and went back to the lodge, where I found Sir Pippin and Sir Merry both in fine tempers."

"The weather was getting worse, Strider," Uncle Pippin interrupted, "and we'd found your note. And then I found out that you had not ridden, but *walked* on your little errand! Thank goodness Bergil returned when he did! I tucked Merry up, and the two of us rode out, bringing your own horse behind us. Fortunately, Merry was able to tell us where to find this place!"

Mr. Appledore moaned again. "All on my account…"

"It's all right, Mr. Appledore," said Frodo. "Come on, let's get you into your bed."

Once more the attention of all four were turned upon their distraught host, as he was assisted to rise. He was reluctant at first, but soon allowed himself to be persuaded by all of these unaccustomed guests, who were rather overawing him. They guided him to his narrow cot.

Frodo-lad looked over at Captain Bergil and Uncle Pippin, who still looked a bit cross--though not so cross as they had when they first arrived. "Uncle Pippin, I can't be sorry we came! Poor Mr. Appledore--I think he would have spent a very cold and hungry night if we had not!"

Pippin's face softened. "You've a good heart, Frodo-lad, just like your namesake."

Frodo blushed to the tips of his ears. While it always made him proud to be compared to his father, to be told that he was like his never-known--yet all the same, well-beloved--Uncle Frodo--oh! It made his eyes sting! "Thank you, Uncle Pippin," he whispered, abashed.

"Well, Strider, I can't say that I can stay angry with you--but Merry is going to be fretting dreadfully until we return. Will you come back with us now?"

"Yes," said the King, "but not quite yet. I wish to speak to our good host, first." He went over, and knelt next to the bed, where the Man lay, still pale, and took his wrist to check his pulse. "You are still distressed, my friend. Do not be. You made a mistake long ago; consider it forgiven."

Mr. Appledore burst into tears at this, but the King continued. "Now, I know that you have made yourself at home here, but I would like you to consider something for me."

There was a sniff. "Yes, m-my lord?"

"I have a splendid new lodge, not far from here, in which I will have little time to spend. I find that I am in need of a caretaker there. Would you like the position?"

"My lord!" The poor Man's eyes grew huge with astonishment.

"I do not ask that you answer me tonight. With the firewood and food we have brought, you should be all right for a few days. As soon as the snow is safe, come let us know your answer."

Mr. Appledore nodded. The King placed a hand upon his brow, and leaned to murmur a few words in his ear. Soon their host was snoring gently.

The King stood up. "Let us bring in the rest of the firewood for him--but quietly." He looked at Frodo-lad, who had picked up one of the extra blankets they had brought, and was gently putting it over the sleeping Man. "Good lad," he said with approval.

The basket was tidied up, the leftover food repacked neatly, and it was placed upon the chair. Uncle Pippin banked the fire, so that it would smoulder with warmth till morning. They did all that they could to make sure they were leaving Tom Appledore warm and safe. Quietly, and with a bit of regret for the warmth they were leaving behind, the four visitors bundled up, and went back outside.

It was frosty cold, but the wind had died down, and it appeared the snow had stopped. Uncle Pippin and Bergil mounted their steeds. "Frodo-lad," asked Uncle Pippin, "will you ride with me?" for they had not brought Frodo's own pony.

But the King had mounted his horse, and he held his hand down. "No, Sir Peregrin, I think my page will ride with me."

Frodo grinned, and soon was seated in front of the King on his mighty horse, and the four rode away from the hut.

As they rode out from beneath the canopy of the trees, the sky was clear above them, and the night was brilliant with stars; Frodo glanced back at the hut, just barely to be made out. The bare branches of the trees looked like black lace against the indigo heavens. It was a beautiful night.


"Yes, Frodo?"

"Do you think Mr. Appledore will take you up on your offer to be caretaker at the lodge?"

"I do think that he will. His loneliness has become a burden to him, and knowing that we did not think ill of him for his poor choice when he was young has lightened that burden a good deal."

They rode silently for a few moments. Captain Bergil and Uncle Pippin were slightly ahead of them.

Then the King spoke again. "I am sorry that I endangered you, Frodo. I made a poor choice myself this day."

"Begging your pardon, sire," Frodo said, "but I don't think you did, 'cause it's hard to know what the weather will do--even my dad gets it wrong sometimes. That poor fellow would have been very cold and hungry without our help. I don't think he had enough firewood left to last till morning, and what he had for food wouldn't've kept a bird alive!"

"Perhaps you are right. Still, I should have paid more attention to the weather."

"The stars are bright tonight," Frodo said. He pointed up to the sky. "Sam-dad says that one is Eärendil. Is the story about it true?"

"Yes, Eärendil was my long ago ancestor, and the Queen's grandfather."

"Oh." Frodo-lad gazed at the star with new interest. He'd thought perhaps it was just a pretty story, to explain why his father loved the star so much. He thought of the star his father had seen in Mordor, and of the Lady's phial. He leaned back and relaxed into the warmth of the rider behind him.

Perhaps Uncle Pippin had heard their soft conversation, for he began to sing quietly--

Earendil was a mariner
that tarried in Arvernien;
he built a boat of timber felled
in Nimbrethil to journey in;
her sails he wove of silver fair,
of silver were her lanterns made,
her prow was fashioned like a swan
and light upon her banners laid.

In panoply of ancient kings,
in chained rings he armoured him…

Frodo-lad yawned. Sleepily he murmured "I'm glad I'm going to be your page, Uncle Strider…" and heard a warm chuckle answer him, before he drifted off to sleep.


Clack. Clack. Clack.

It was two days since Frodo-lad's "adventure" with the King. The snow had mostly melted--there were still a few banks and patches in the shade where the Sun did not show herself, but she was bright this morning.

Clack. Clack. Clack.

He was in front of the lodge, sparring with Uncle Pippin, with wooden practise swords. The King and Uncle Merry and Bergil watched. Uncle Merry had been glad to be allowed to come out in the sunshine. He sat on the front step of the lodge, with his foot propped up on a small barrel. The King sat next to him, and Bergil stood nearby, keeping an alert eye out.

"Move your feet, lad!" called the King.

Clack. Clack. Thwack.

Frodo stopped completely, startled. He'd actually landed a blow to Uncle Pippin's upper arm. Uncle Pippin stepped back. "That was good, Frodo-lad! Very good!" He rubbed at the place where the blow had landed.

"Are you all right?" asked Frodo.

"I'm fine; I'm wearing my armour, after all, lad."

The King had sighed and rolled his eyes. "Hobbits!" he said.

Uncle Merry glanced over at him. "What's the problem?" he asked, amused.

Bergil exchanged a glance with the King, and then said "You hobbits are too polite. You stop in the middle of a match to exchange pleasantries!"

Uncle Pippin laughed. "Why not? It's not like we are fighting actual enemies."

This was an old argument, and the Men and the hobbits all chuckled now.
Then Bergil called out, "Look!"

Frodo glanced to where the captain was pointing. A figure was coming towards them. "It's Mr. Appledore!" He tossed aside his practice weapon--getting an exclamation of protest from all the adults--and dashed forth to greet the new arrival.

Tom Appledore looked rather surprised at the warmth of his reception. The King had stood, and he nervously approached, and attempted a rather awkward and unpractised bow. "My lord, I--uh--well, if you still want me, that is, I thought I would take you up on your offer to be caretaker?" He gazed up at the lodge, and his eyes grew wide. "If--if you think I can do it?"

The King placed his hands on Mr. Appledore's shoulders. "I am glad that you have decided to accept my offer. I think you will do well."

The other Man had tears in his eyes. "I don't know why you are so kind to me." Suddenly, he sobbed, putting his face in his hands.

The King drew him into a brief embrace of comfort, and then turned with his arms about the poor Man's shoulders.

"Come inside with me, and we shall speak privily."

Frodo stood with Captain Bergil, Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin, and watched as the King drew Mr. Appledore away.

Uncle Merry and Uncle Pippin exchanged a look full of meaning. "Was there ever anyone like him?" asked Uncle Pippin.

"He helps us to live on those heights we once spoke of," said Uncle Merry. "I can't think of a greater blessing than to have him for our King."

Nor can I, thought Frodo-lad. And it's going to be a real blessing to serve him this year.



This story was inspired by one of my favorite Christmas carols, due solely to the fact that "Good King Elessar" has the same number of syllables as "Good King Wenceslas".

Although I am sure most of my readers are at least somewhat familiar with the carol on which this story is based, here are the lyrics:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

"Good King Wenceslas" was an actual person. According to Wikipedia: 
Wenceslaus I ( c. 907 – September 28, 935), or Wenceslas I, was the duke of Bohemia from 921 until his assassination in 935, purportedly in a plot by his own brother, Boleslav the Cruel.

His martyrdom, and the popularity of several biographies, quickly gave rise to a reputation for heroic goodness, resulting in his being elevated to sainthood, posthumously declared king, and seen as the patron saint of the Czech state. He is the subject of "Good King Wenceslas", a Saint Stephen's Day carol written over 900 years later, in 1853, that remains popular to this day.

So while the legend has been around for over a thousand years, the carol is only about a hundred and sixty years old:

In 1853, English hymnwriter John Mason Neale wrote the "Wenceslas" lyrics, in collaboration with his music editor Thomas Helmore, and the carol first appeared in Carols for Christmas-Tide, 1853. Neale's lyrics were set to a tune based on a 13th-century spring carol "Tempus adest floridum" ("The time is near for flowering") first published in the 1582 Finnish song collection Piae Cantiones.

Here is a link to the carol sung by a traditional choir:
Good">">Good King Wenceslas

 I think of this story as AU. It doesn't quite fit into my usual timeline, but I had to fit in all of the elements. I hope you enjoy:

Rating: G
Summary--well, here's Pearl's request, which I attempted to fulfill, with the possible exception of the lightning, which ended up being merely metaphorical.

I would like a humorous story with the setting at the Great Smials. Pippin is very young (but not an infant). Gandalf is present and is putting on a fireworks show to celebrate Yule. The story must include a lightening strike as a secondary element, but without any great emphasis on the resulting fire. At some point, Gandalf gets into the holiday punch, which of course, has been spiked!"


For the first time in many years there was a certain sense of lightness about the Great Smials at Yuletide.

The prospect of a grand wedding in the Southfarthing among her Clayhanger and Bracegirdle relations--her great-niece, Aubrieta Clayhanger was to marry the heir of the Hornblower clan, young Tibald--had lured Lalia out of the Great Smials for the first time in years, and she had commandeered her son, the Thain, to accompany her.

Word of her departure, even though temporary, quickly spread through the Shire.

The knowledge that Lalia would not be in attendance at the Great Smial's Yule festivities had lured many who had avoided them for years to take advantage and attend.

Among those who received word were Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.

"Frodo, my lad, I've a letter from your Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda! It seems they will not be at Brandy Hall for Yule this year!"

"What do you mean, Uncle Bilbo?" Frodo was surprised. They had always made it their custom to visit Buckland and celebrate Yule at Brandy Hall. Frodo quite looked forward to the visit with his Brandybuck cousins.

"Lalia is not going to be at the Great Smials during Yule! Paladin and Eglantine are going there this year, and Saradoc and Esmeralda will be joining them."

"Oh." Frodo was disappointed.

Bilbo grinned. "Since my main reason for avoiding the Great Smials is not there, I see no reason that we should not also join them there this year."

"Oh, Uncle Bilbo! Thank you!"

"No need for thanks, Frodo--it will make a nice change for all of us. I do think that things may be rather crowded there, but it will be nice to see some of my Tookish connections again."


In Buckland, at Brandy Hall, the Master and Mistress of Buckland had taken the news that their son and his family would be going to the Tooklands for the holiday with equanimity.

"After all," said Rory, "you've made your wife's brother and his family travel here every Yule for years. It's only fair to have turnabout for once."

"We'll miss you, son," said Menegilda, "but I'll be sure to save one of my fruitcakes for your return."

"Well, son," Rorimac asked his son, "you do have my gift to your brother-in-law well packed, so that it will not jostle?"

"Of course, Da," Saradoc grinned. "Two casks of the Hall's finest apple brandy! Just the thing for making a fine punch!"


Bilbo and Frodo were busy packing for their journey to Tuckborough. "Do you think the weather will hold, Uncle Bilbo?" Frodo asked. "After all, we wouldn't want to be caught by rain or snow before we get there."

Bilbo chuckled. "The Gaffer assures me that the weather will hold--cold, but mild and sunny--for a day or so at least. And he always knows--feels it in his bones, he says."

Frodo began to buckle his pack. "You never feel the weather in your bones, Uncle Bilbo, and you are a lot older than the Gaffer."

"I'm uncommonly lucky, Frodo my lad! I am quite sure that I take after the Old Took! It's possible that I may even outlive him."

Frodo took a deep breath. Uncle Bilbo talked about such things so casually, but he didn't like to think about it. Yes, his older cousin might be planning to outlive the Old Took, but there was no guarantee he'd live another week. Life was unpredictable, as he knew all too well. Out loud he merely said, "I sincerely hope you do, Uncle Bilbo. I don't know what I'd do without you."

Bilbo smiled at him. He knew what Frodo was thinking, but he was determined not to allow the mood to get serious. "Well, you'll not be finding out anytime soon, my lad! Now, are you all packed? If you are finished, we can be off after second breakfast."

But just then there was a smart rapping at the door. Bilbo sighed. "Frodo, would you answer the door? I don't think it is the S.-B.s; they were off to the Southfarthing for the holidays, and to attend a wedding. I'll go put the kettle on for our breakfast tea." Bilbo headed to the kitchen while Frodo went to answer the door, which was being rapped upon again.

Frodo opened the door, and then his jaw dropped at the sight of the visitor. "Gandalf!" He grinned, and moved to embrace the unexpected guest.

The wizard bent down and took Frodo into his arms. "Frodo! It's very good to see you again! And where is that rascally Uncle of yours?"

But just then Bilbo emerged from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel.

"Gandalf! Come in, come in! You are just in time to join us for second breakfast!"

"Second for you, perhaps, Bilbo, but a first for me. I've not broken my fast yet this morning--I was looking forward to your hospitality, and did not wish to blunt my appetite before I had a chance to sample your cooking!"

They went into the kitchen, and Gandalf sat down next to the table and drew out his pipe. As he lit it, he noted the packs by the door. "Are you planning on going somewhere?" he asked, with a slight note of disappointment.

"We are going to the Great Smials for Yule. You are more than welcome to come with us," said Bilbo with a grin.

Gandalf gave a derisive bark of laughter. "You think to cozen me! You are no fonder of Mistress Lalia than I am! She would have apoplexy if I were to show up there for the Yuletide festivities!"

Frodo, who was setting the table, grinned. "Ah, but Mistress Lalia is not going to be there! She and Thain Ferumbras are spending Yule in Longbottom this year!'

Gandalf's eyes widened in astonishment. "Bilbo! Is that so?"

"It most certainly is. Otherwise, *I* would be going to Brandy Hall this year, as usual."

"Hmm…" Gandalf stroked his beard, and looked thoughtful.

"Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme and Merry will be there!" said Frodo encouragingly.

"It *has* been a while since there have been fireworks at the Great Smials. Tooks were once rather fond of them…"

Bilbo grinned, as he stirred up the mushrooms and taters in the skillet.

"Oh, do say you will come with us, Gandalf!" Frodo exclaimed.

The wizard puffed on his pipe for a moment or two, as Frodo stood impatiently, his hands clasped together. Gandalf blew out a red smoke ring, and then sent a red one up to link together with it. "Very well," he said. "I will accompany you. Are you set on walking, or would you mind riding in my cart?"

Frodo gave a joyous whoop, and leapt up as though he were much younger, and not a tween of twenty-six.


With both Thain and Mistress gone, Paladin suddenly found that his arrival at the Smials meant that all the servants looked to *him* to preside over the festivities--not something he'd wanted, but something he'd more or less anticipated.

The head housekeeper, Mistress Foxglove trotted alongside him and Eglantine. "I put you all in the South Wing, Mr. Paladin, in the apartment across from the Mistress's. Cook has the welcoming feast well in hand--we'd assumed you'd dine in the Main Hall this evening. Tomorrow we are expecting several more guests to arrive…"

Behind them, the children--Pearl, Pimpernel, Pervinca and little Peregrin--scurried to keep up. Peregrin, who was only five, and whose little legs were taking two steps to his sisters' ones, began to tire and to fall behind.

With a sigh, he stopped, and just stared, tears coming to his green eyes.

He watched them turn into another corridor in this confusing place, and he sat down on the floor, his back against the wall, and sniffled. Everyone forgot about him, he thought sadly. They all just left. He did not like this big place at all.

"Pippin!" He looked up to see his sister Pearl coming back, and he stood up.

"Pearl, I thought you forgotted me," he said sadly.

She scooped him up, and hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry, Pip! We thought you were right there with us."

"You went too fast." He snuggled his head against her shoulder, and sniffed. "This place is too big!"

She squeezed him. "I know, dear! It really is too big! But it will be fun here! There will be lots of cousins to play with!"

He looked up at her hopefully. "Merry?"

"Yes, Pip, Merry is coming! And so are Cousin Bilbo and Frodo!"

"Oh goody!" Pippin exclaimed. Just then, they caught up to the rest of the family, the housekeeper still talking.


Frodo was warmly ensconced between Bilbo and Gandalf on the large seat of the cart. The big brown cart-horse plodded patiently along the Post Road, which was a quicker route to Tuckborough than the regular road. The tweenager listened in fascination to his Uncle Bilbo and the wizard as they talked.

"No, Bilbo, I am afraid I have not heard from Balin for a few years now. But starting a new colony is a big enterprise--I am sure he has little time for personal correspondence."

"A dangerous enterprise, as well, Gandalf. I do remember that you were against his project."

Gandalf shrugged. "I was. Yet, still I must hope that I was wrong." He gave the reins a shake, and then said, "However, once it was learned I was heading in your direction, I was inundated with messages to you! Your other companions all wished me to bring their regards. I also bring greetings from Beorn, who remembers you fondly, and said he hoped you still remembered how to make his honeycakes; from King Bard of Dale; from the Elven-king of Mirkwood, Thranduil; and from Master Elrond himself, who wondered when you might be making another visit."

Frodo's ears twitched at that. Would Bilbo visit Rivendell again? If he did, perhaps he would take Frodo with him! How delightful!

They took the Post Road, which was quicker than the regular road, though not so well maintained. It had ruts along both sides, and grass had grown up in the centre in a few places. But Gandalf's cart was a sturdy one, and had no problems, though the road was bumpy enough.

Luncheon was eaten in a leisurely fashion, from a hamper which Bilbo had placed beside the seat, and then, when he and Gandalf had finished eating, and Frodo was filling up his corners with an apple, Gandalf and Bilbo drew out their pipes.

Frodo watched in delight as Bilbo blew out several perfect smoke rings, while Gandalf did the same--but his were nearly every colour of the rainbow!

They were only a few miles from Tuckborough where the Post Road joined to the main road, and they heard someone coming behind them. Gandalf pulled to the verge to allow the carriage to pass, and Frodo turned to look.

"Uncle Bilbo! It's the Brandybuck carriage!"

The carriage stopped alongside, and there were greetings exchanged. Merry was so excited to see Gandalf he was beside himself.

"Aunt Esme," said Frodo, laughing, "won't you let Merry ride with us the rest of the way?"

Merry's parents easily agreed to this, and soon Merry was transferred from the carriage to the cart, where he bounced up and down excitedly next to Frodo.

"Merry! Calm down! Or I'll think I have a Took in here instead of a Brandybuck!"

Merry blushed. "I'm sorry, Frodo--but I haven't seen Gandalf since I was seven!"

Gandalf turned his head, and looked at Merry from under the wide brim of his hat. "And I am pleased to see you again, Meriadoc!"

"Oh, Pippin is going to be so excited to meet you!"

"And who, pray tell, is Pippin?"

"He's our cousin Peregrin Took! He's only five, so he wasn't around the last time I saw you."

Gandalf turned an inquisitive eye to Bilbo. "Peregrin is Paladin and Eglantine's youngest. He's a real Took charmer, and a handful besides!" Bilbo answered.


"Mama--I mean Mother! Can't I please go wait for Merry and Frodo? I'll be good. I won't go in the road or anything! Pleasepleasepleaseplease?" Pippin was wringing his hands and bouncing on his toes.

"Not by yourself, Pippin." Eglantine glanced at the list she'd made of all she had to do for the day.

Pippin's eyes widened and filled with tears, and his lower lip began to tremble. He gave a sniff. Eglantine sighed. "Pimpernel--would you mind taking Pippin to the end of the drive and waiting with him for Merry or Frodo to arrive?"

Pimpernel sighed and shrugged. She stood up and held out her hand. "Come along, then, Pip."

Pippin snatched her hand and pulled her along, as he began singing "Merry, Merry's coming, and Frodo, too!" over and over again. As they left the room, Pimpernel closed the door just a little bit harder than was necessary, and Eglantine sighed. Pippin had a sweet childish treble, but that song was going to get somewhat tedious. Poor Pimmie.


The Brandybucks had allowed Gandalf's cart to take the road ahead of their carriage, and they followed close behind. Frodo and Merry were chattering excitedly. Neither of them had ever spent Yule at Great Smials before, and so they were wondering which of their cherished traditions would be different, and speculating over which cousins they would see there.

Soon they came around a curve, and into the lane that approached the huge ancestral dwellings of the Tooks.

Merry grinned and pointed. "Look!"

Frodo and Bilbo laughed outright and Gandalf chuckled at the sight--two young hobbits, a young lad and an older lass, sat on the top rail of the fence that bordered the drive. The two had clearly spotted their approach, for the lad attempted to jump down, and was firmly grabbed by the older.

"I think," said Merry dryly, "that Pippin's seen us."

Frodo answered in the same tone, "I think you are right."

They watched as Pippin, who was now standing on the second rail, and waving wildly, was being held back by Pimmie's hold onto the back of Pippin's jacket. They could hear him yelling their names even over the rumble of the cart's wheels, and as they grew closer, Frodo, Merry and Bilbo waved back.

"Hullo, Pip!" Merry called out.

Pippin gave another lunge, and suddenly Pimpernel lost her grip. She gave a little shriek, as Pippin flew from her grasp, and tumbled head over heels straight into the road, landing flat on his little back.

Merry gasped, and Frodo went pale, while Bilbo leaned forward tensely. But Gandalf quickly pulled his big horse to a sudden halt, by such a powerful yank on the reins that the poor animal actually danced back a few steps. Even more quickly than Merry and Frodo, he leaped from his seat, and swooped the little hobbit up in his arms.

Pippin, who had made not a sound other than an "oof" as the breath had been knocked out of him when he landed in the road, gazed in wide-eyed wonder at this amazing creature who had rescued him.

Finally he said "What are you?"

Gandalf chuckled. "I am Gandalf." He gazed back intently into the surprised green eyes, and said, "And you are a most remarkable Took, Peregrin."

Pippin leaned back in the huge arms, and studied the hairy face, like none he'd ever seen before, and stared into the twinkling dark eyes. Then he smiled, and leaned forward, hugging Gandalf about the neck. "I like you," he murmured against Gandalf's beard.

"And I like you, too, Pippin," he said.

In the meanwhile, Bilbo was trying to calm an hysterical Pimpernel who was alternately screaming, weeping, and scolding her brother, and Merry and Frodo were both trying to get hold of their cousin to examine him.

Gandalf looked down at them. "He is quite all right," he said firmly.

Pippin looked down and grinned. "Hullo, Merry! Hullo, Frodo! I was waiting for you!"


A few hours later the young hobbits were at supper in the main dining hall, sitting at the children's table with dozens of other young hobbits. By rights, Frodo should have been at the tween's table, but he had more fun with the younger ones, and he didn't know his Tookish agemates so well as he did the Brandybuck cousins of his generation. He had Pippin on his right, between him and Merry, and on his other side were Fatty Bolger and young Ferdibrand Took. There was much hilarity, and speculation about Yule gifts and what would be served at the feasts--but Frodo's bit of gossip had the whole table cheering:

"Well, Gandalf has said he has fireworks! I think he is going to set them off at the Yulenight bonfire."

As most of the other children began to talk excitedly about the treat, Pippin looked up at Frodo. "What are fireworks?"

Frodo was a bit taken aback. How to explain them?

"They are kind of like candles," said Merry, "only they make a loud noise!"

"Noisy candles?" Pippin's little face screwed up in an effort to picture that.

"They are lights, Pippin, like stars," said Frodo, "only they burst into colours, and look like stars falling from the sky like rain. And they do make noises--rather like thunder, but sharper."

Pippin bit his lip. "I don't like thunder."

"I don't either," said Fatty's little sister Estella, who sat across from them. She glanced at Pippin's plate. "Do you want your carrots?"

Pippin's eyes grew wide, and he didn't answer, but began eating them rapidly, as though he were afraid she would reach across the table and snatch them.

"You can have mine," Merry said gallantly. He'd already had three servings of carrots.

Estella gave him a gap-toothed grin, as he slid his plate over.


The next morning was the day before First Yule. The adults shooed the children off to breakfast, for they had preparations to make themselves. Pippin was bouncing along between Frodo and Merry, who had no trouble claiming him from his sisters, who wanted to go and play with their own friends.

He walked between them, skipping and bouncing, and sometimes hanging from their arms with his feet swinging off the floor. "Where are we going?" he asked.

"We're going to see the Aunties!" said Merry. "Aunt Primrose and Aunt Peridot!"

"Oh yes!" Pippin exclaimed. Primrose and Peridot were the older sisters of Paladin Took and Esmeralda Brandybuck, and great favourites of their various nieces and nephews. Frodo was also fond of them--they had been old friends of his parents, especially his mother, who had been their best friend.

When they arrived at the auntie's apartments, Frodo and Merry made their greetings politely, but Pippin leaped with arms outstretched to his Aunt Peridot, who caught him quickly, and bussed him on top of the head. "Hullo, Auntie Peri!"

"Good heavens, Pippin! Every time I see you, you have grown some more!"

"Come in, lads, come in! We thought you might like to help us make gingerhobbits this morning!" said Aunt Primrose.

While most of the preparations for the Yule feast was taking place in the larger communal kitchens of the Great Smials, most of the separate quarters belonging to various Tooks also had their own small kitchens. A good many treats would also be coming from those small kitchens as well.

The proposal was greeted with great enthusiasm by the lads. Soon all were in the small kitchen. Frodo helped to stir up the ingredients that Aunt Primrose measured out, while Merry rolled out the dough. Pippin, with a dishtowel tied around his neck, and ensconced on Aunt Peridot's lap, cut the figures out with the little tin cutter, and helped to decorate them with raisins. Aunt Peridot tried to make sure that most of the raisins went onto the gingerhobbits and not into Pippin--still, a good many of them *did* find their way into his mouth--as well as occasional pinches of the sweet dough.

Before long the little kitchen was filled with the spicy smell of gingerbread baking.

"Now, while they bake, why don't we get the washing up done?" asked Aunt Primrose. Pippin, still too small to help, began dancing around the table, singing a popular children's Yule song.

"Yuletide fun, Yuletide fun!
Fun until the day is done!
We will visit with our cousins!
Cousins by the tens and dozens!
Food and song,
All day long!
All day long!
Food and song,
All day long!"

Each time he repeated the last line louder, punctuating it with a vigorous jump. "Peregrin!" said Aunt Peridot sharply--but she was too late, for the last time he jumped especially hard. His head hit the edge of the table, and he fell down with a thump and a yowl, while the large mixing bowl which had been on the table, teetered for an instant, and then came crashing down, just as Frodo snatched Pippin out of the way, smashing to pieces as it hit the floor. Everyone except Pippin stared at the bowl for a moment.

Pippin was too busy howling and rubbing his head where it hit the table.

"Hush, Pip, you're all right," Frodo said in a soothing tone.

"Am not!" Pippin sniffed. "It hurted my head."

Merry said in awed tones "That bowl would have landed right on him, Frodo!" He started to move to Frodo's side, so that he could check Pippin, but Primrose stopped him with a hand upon his shoulder.

"Move carefully, lads! All of you, out of the kitchen. We must clean up the pottery shards before anyone cuts a foot."

"Oh dear!" exclaimed Peridot, and she suddenly moved to snatch up a dishtowel, and retrieve the gingerhobbits from the oven--just in time, as a few of them had begun to scorch about the edges.

Frodo and Merry sat in the sitting room, and soon had Pippin calmed down. Merry managed to make him giggle, when he said "You have quite a goose-egg on your forehead, Pip!"

Pippin felt the bump gingerly. "A goose-egg! Will a goose come from my head?"

"No," said Frodo, dropping a kiss on top of the unruly curls. "But you are a silly goose! You know you should not be jumping about in a kitchen, Pip!"

Pippin looked up at Frodo from under his dark eyelashes, and said sadly, "But Frodo, I was so 'cited! All the happy just had to come out!"


As Frodo and Merry explained Pippin's bruise to their Aunt Eglantine, Bilbo stood by, listening and shaking his head, and chuckling. Gandalf bent down. "Is the little one often the subject of such mishaps?" he asked, remembering the fright of the previous day when the lad had tumbled so precipitously in front of his cart.

"Well, the lad tends to be a bit--er, enthusiastic, and it sometimes does have unfortunate results."

"So I see." The wizard watched as the child's family made over the lad, and his mother scolded him fondly. He was a sweet little chap, but he did seem to be quite a bundle of energy.


That night the Whitwell Tooks and the Brandybucks, along with Bilbo and Frodo, and Gandalf, took their supper in the Tooks' spacious quarters.

"These are the rooms that your parents had, Paladin and Esmeralda, back before Lalia became the Thain's Lady. I am surprised that they were given to you this visit," said Bilbo.

Paladin shrugged. "Lalia is not here, and I think that Mistress Foxglove and the other servants have taken it on themselves to show my family a lot more deference than we are entitled to, just to spite her."

Gandalf chuckled. "She is going to explode when she returns and finds *I* was here."

"I was sorry to find that one of the first things she did after Fortinbras passed to his rest, was to get rid of the special bed Great-grandfather Gerontius kept for you, Gandalf."

The wizard shrugged. "I am quite comfortable on my pallet in Bilbo's guest rooms. I spend most of my nights on the ground beneath the stars."

In a spirit of mischief, Bilbo raised his glass. "A toast!" he called.

All others at the table stared his way.

"A toast--to Mistress Lalia!" He grinned at the incredulous gasps around the table, and continued "to Mistress Lalia, I say, who had the good sense to take herself elsewhere this Yule!"

There was much laughter at this sally, and Saradoc said "Here! Here!" as he drained his glass.

Near the other end of the table, Pippin tugged on Frodo's sleeve. Frodo leaned down, and Pippin whispered, "Grown-ups are so silly sometimes."

Frodo giggled. Bilbo'd allowed him a small bit of wine, and he'd drained his own glass at the toast. "They are, sometimes, Pip," he whispered back.


The children awakened in much excitement the next morning! It was First Yule!

First breakfasts were taken hastily in the various rooms and apartments. Second breakfast would be a large affair, with all sorts of food on the sideboard, taken in the main hall. And then all the children would bundle up and go out in the wagons to bring the greenery home.

Merry was very excited. "In Buckland, we wait for the uncles to bring the evergreens home."

"I know," said Frodo. He was excited over this Tookish twist on the old custom of decking the halls.

Soon the waggons were pulled up in the drive--various older cousins and uncles were going along to supervise, while a large hamper of food for elevenses was loaded into each one, before the children scrambled into the backs of the waggons.

Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Pippin's sisters, along with the Bolger children, and Ferdibrand and Donnabella Took piled into the waggon driven by Cousin Ferdinand, Ferdi and Donna's father, and Cousin Odovocar Bolger, Fatty and Estella's father.

The children huddled together against the cold, Pippin snug in Frodo's lap, and sang merrily as they rode along. They sang seasonal favourites like, "All Day Long" "No Shorter Now Will Grow the Days" and "Come Now Good Hobbits" as well as some other non-seasonal songs like "Nob O' the Lea" and, of course, "One Hundred Apple Pies".

Soon the waggon came to a small track that led into a little wooded dell. A few minutes of riding beneath the arches of the trees led into a clearing surrounded by trees: oak, ash, rowan and holly, as well as some cedar and cypress. The children piled out to help with cutting the evergreens--the older children actually helping with cutting the branches, while the little ones ran about trying to find the best of the greenery.

"Look at all that mistletoe!" called Merry, pointing up into a rather large and imposing old oak. "There's such a lot of it! It's a shame we can't reach it!"

" 'Tis a shame," said Cousin Ferdinand. "But it is far too high!"

Frodo laughed. "No it isn't! I can climb up and fetch some!"

"Are you sure, Frodo?" Odovacar looked doubtful.

"Frodo's a good climber, Papa," said Fatty.

Frodo started to scramble up the tree, when he noticed that Pippin was right on his heels. "I want to help!" the little one exclaimed.

"I don't think so Pippin! It's far too high for you!"

The lad looked very crestfallen. He loved climbing in trees, but was only allowed to do that with Frodo. None of his other cousins liked to climb, and his parents had forbade him to climb trees alone as yet.

"I'll tell you what, Pip. If it's all right with Cousin Ferdinand and Cousin Odovacar, you can climb as high as that second branch there--" he pointed, and then I can pass the mistletoe down to you as I cut it."

Frodo looked up at the adults for permission. Odovacar looked doubtful, but Ferdinand who had done his own share of tree-climbing as a lad, nodded. "But mind you, Pippin, to stay on the branch that Frodo tells you to! And we will be right here beneath you!"

So Frodo climbed up, and took out his small pocket-knife. He was very proud of it. It had been a Yule gift from Bilbo the second year after he had been adopted. He carefully cut the mistletoe, and then passed the lighter branches down to Pippin, who then passed them along to the other children below him. Ferdinand and Odovacar kept themselves unencumbered, so they would be ready if Pippin should fall.

But once Frodo had enough of the mistletoe, he climbed back, and he and Pippin reached the ground without mishap.

"I think," said Odovacar, "that we have enough greenery for now! If we cut too much more there will not be room for ten little hobbits in the back of the waggon, and all the greenery as well!"

"And then--" added Ferdinand, "we shall have our elevenses!"

Soon all of the holly and mistletoe and evergreens were stowed, and the hamper had been brought out. There were two pottery jugs one of fruit juice, one of milk; and there were sandwiches: ham, cheese and chicken, as well as some mushroom pasties, and apples and pears for afters.

When they had finished eating, Odovacar and Ferdinand sat leaning against the waggon-wheels to have a post-prandial smoke, and the children began to run about playing "Hide and Seek".

The youngsters began to get winded, finally, and Ferdinand and Odovacar thought it might be time to head back, when they heard a yowl.

"That's Pippin!" cried Merry in alarm.

"Help!" came Pippin's voice, from a little thicket of holly on the south side of the clearing.

"Pip!' Frodo exclaimed. He and Merry rushed in the direction of the little one's voice, followed only a little slower by the others.

"Pip?" said Merry, looking about.

"I'm here, Merry! I just wanted to get some more holly! I'm stuck! It's all prickly!"

Merry sighed. "I'll come get you, Pippin," he said.


When the party returned to Great Smials, they were the last of the greenery-gatherers to arrive. While the older lasses and aunties swarmed over the waggon to take the leafy prizes away for making into garlands, wreaths and swags, Frodo handed Merry and Pippin over to their mothers to have their scratches attended to. Merry had only a few on his hands and arms, but Pippin had been scratched by the prickly bush everywhere he was not clothed: his face, hands, arms, and lower legs were criss-crossed with fine scratches!

Bilbo, who had met the waggon in hopes of bringing Frodo away to lunch with him, shook his head. "Pippin really is the most *accident-prone* child!"

"You have no idea, Uncle Bilbo," Frodo chuckled. "And it is never quite the mishaps you expect!"


A bit of soothing lotion fetched from the Great Smials healer, Mistress Lilac, soon had Merry and Pippin back among all the other children, and the day passed in a blur of feasting and playing with gifts--Pippin had a magnificent new hobby-horse, which he raced constantly up and down the corridors, squealing "Faster, Apple-pie! Faster!"

"Apple-pie?" Gandalf asked Bilbo in a murmured aside as he watched the pandemonium of young hobbits.

Bilbo shrugged, and gave the wizard a lopsided grin. "It's what he chose to name it! Can you imagine what he might name a *real* pony?"

Gandalf gave a great guffaw, drawing the stares of the hobbits who heard it.

Bilbo waved a hand. "The feasts have been splendid! We'll soon be lighting the Yule fire! The Sun's nearly gone to her bed!" He hiccupped lightly. "Would you care for some of the apple-brandy punch? It's made with some of Brandy Hall's finest!"

"Not quite yet, old friend," replied the wizard. "For soon I'll be setting off the fireworks, and that's an undertaking best done sober!"

Just then, Paladin gave the signal, and it was time for all the hobbits to troop back outside of the gaily decorated halls; for in Tookland the Yule-fire was lit outdoors, as a bonfire. Then at midnight, the Thain, (or this year, in the Thain's absence, Paladin) would take a coal from the fire indoors to light the Yule log in the big hearth in the main hall. This was different than it was done in Brandy Hall, and Merry was thrilled to be able to stay up so late.

Dusk had come, and Gandalf passed out some marvellous squibs and sparklers to the small fry, who ran about making spirals of light, as they waved the sparklers in the cold air. Then he went to the hilltop, where he had placed his fireworks, and began to set them off. He regretted that he had prepared no special rockets, such as he had at one time often set off for the Old Took at Lithe, but he had not really been planning this, and had to make do with what he had on hand.

The hobbits were entranced. It had been over a generation since Gandalf's fireworks had been seen in the Tooklands! Upturned faces "oozed" and "ahhed" as the rockets went up, bursting into colourful rains of red, blue and green; or exploding into golden flowers, which shot out streamers of fire, that spiralled to the ground with a shriek.

Pippin, who sat on Frodo's shoulders, was amazed. Not like candles, nor very like stars--they were not like anything he'd *ever* seen before. Though he had cringed at the first sharp report, he had soon grown used to the noise, which lit the sky like a lightning stroke, and was certainly as loud as thunder, but not nearly as scary and rumbly.

As the last rocket exploded across the sky, Paladin came forward to where the bonfire was set up, and at his signal all the hobbits gathered in a large circle to hold hands and to sing what was known as "The Tuckborough Carol":

"Light the Yule log, blazing cheer,
Giving warmth this time of year.
Turning back all thoughts of fear,
As we hold close our loved ones dear!

The day is short; the night is long.
Against the dark we sing this song--
Let our hearts be filled with light
And may the world again grow bright!

We put up many stores ahead
Against the cold months left to tread.
Shall we now have meat and bread?
Our bodies and our hearts be fed!

The day is short; the night is long.
Against the dark we sing this song--
Let our hearts be filled with light
And may the world again grow bright!

Though the world is dark and cold,
While we have a hand to hold,
And we are safe within the fold,
Our spirits may be brave and bold!

The day is short; the night is long.
Against the dark we sing this song--
Let our hearts be filled with light
And may the world again grow bright!

Light the Yule log, blazing cheer,
Giving warmth this time of year.
Turning back all thoughts of fear,
As we hold close our loved ones dear! "

Gandalf blinked back unaccustomed tears, and turned to Bilbo. "I do think, Bilbo, old friend, that I will have some of that apple-brandy punch now!"

Bilbo grinned and the two friends made their way to the punch bowl. The musicians were tuning up for dancing. Esmeralda was up on the bandstand with her fiddle, and Ferdinand with his Tookish pipes. Pearl had her tambour. Cousin Hildigar had his lute, and Aunt Peridot her lap-harp, and Uncle Everand had his drum. Soon music filled the Green Hills, and hobbits were dancing about the bonfire--and after a few cups of the punch, so was one wizard.

Many of the children were joining in the circle dances, while others were running about playing. Bilbo spotted Frodo dancing Circle of Joy, his favourite dance, with little Pervinca. Merry was wrestling with Fatty. Bilbo glanced around. Pimpernel was over there with some lasses, playing a clapping game. Paladin and Eglantine were surrounded by Tooks, all of them eager to tell him of how dreadful life in the Great Smials was under Lalia's firm thumb. Where was young Pippin?

Just then, Gandalf came to stand by Bilbo, slightly out of breath. "Bilbo, Bilbo--have I ever told you that hobbits are amaz--amazing creatures? Truly amazing. Have I told you that?"

"Gandalf! I do believe you are tipsy!"

"Quite likely. That punch has quite a punch," and then Gandalf chuckled at his own joke.

"Have you seen little Pippin?"

"Little Pippin? No, I don't suppose I have…shall we go look for him? But perhaps I should have some more punch first…"

"No, Gandalf, I don't think so. I think some fresh air will be better for you. Let us see if we can find Pippin. I have a feeling that it would be a good idea."

The two looked carefully around the edges of the crowd. Gandalf had no trouble seeing over the heads of the crowd. "There he is! Over by the bonfire." The wizard peered more closely. "Good heavens! What is he doing?"

"What?" asked Bilbo sharply.

"Quickly," said Gandalf. He hurriedly made his way to the bonfire, with Bilbo trotting at his heels--what *was* that lad doing?

Gandalf reached down. "Here, my lad! I'll take those." He reached down and took a handful of sparklers from Pippin's hand. "Were you going to light *all* of those at one time, Peregrin Took?"

Earnest green eyes gazed back. "Yes! I thought they would look grand all lighted up together!"

Bilbo picked Pippin up. "That is *not* a good idea, child! It could be very dangerous to light so many at once."


They carried the lad over to his parents, who looked askance.

"Don't ask," said Bilbo.

Paladin and Eglantine looked at one another with alarm, but their attention was drawn away by some of the other hobbits. Bilbo and Gandalf hurried away, to avoid any awkward questions.

"I suppose that I will have to tell them," said Bilbo, "but I think it can wait until tomorrow. I have never known a child so young who could find so many ways to fall into trouble! It will be a miracle if he lives to grow up."

Gandalf stopped for a moment, and stared up at the sky. "He will live to grow up. That child has a destiny."

Bilbo looked startled. "Gandalf?"

For an instant, Gandalf paid him no mind, and then he shook his head and looked down.

"I'm sorry, Bilbo. I seem to have forgotten what I was going to say. I think I may have indulged in a bit too much of the punch. I think that I shall retire now."

Bilbo watched him walk away, his tall form swaying just a bit. "I'm sure," he said to himself, "that it must have been the apple-brandy talking. But it's been a splendid Yule! Why, I don't think there has been such a lovely Yule here since Grandfather Gerontius' time!"


Far away in the Southfarthing, at the Hornblower family estate, Southfork, Lalia looked out her window, as she prepared to retire. The wedding had been every bit as extravagant as she had expected, and the Yule celebration afterwards had been magnificent.

As her maid came to help her get ready for bed, Lalia smiled. She had been treated to a bountiful feast, and had received an expensive gift of a gold bracelet from the Hornblower himself.

"I have had a splendid Yule, Begonia. I am glad I could see my way clear to attending."

"Yes, ma'am."

"After all, Yule at the Great Smials is always such a dreary affair."


The Year Has Turned (Sing Tarrilee)

The year has turned--what have we learned?
Sing tarrilee! Sing tarrilee!
To be content with hearth and hole.
To freely give and not withhold.
To find the joy in every day.
To do our best in work and play.
To love our family and our friends.
To be ready for all that now begins.

Out with the old, old, old!
In with the new, new, new!
Sing tarrilee-tarrilee--roo-too-roo
Though it is cold, cold, cold,
The old year is through, through, through!
Sing tarrilee-tarrilee-roo-too-roo!

The year is new--what shall we do?
Sing tarrilee! Sing tarrilee!
We shall learn to be happier still.
We’ll meet new friends with all goodwill.
We’ll keep hearts lighter in weal or woe.
We’ll find new tasks to learn and know.
And when this new year is done,
We’ll know we finished what we’d begun!

Out with the old, old, old!
In with the new, new, new!
Sing tarrilee-tarrilee-roo-too-roo
Though it is cold, cold, cold,
The old year is through, through, through!
Sing tarrilee-tarrilee-roo-too-roo!

 Written for the lotr_community's 2008 Yule Fic Exchange

Title: To Wait for Sun’s Returning
Author: Dreamflower
Written for: Cathleen
Requested: A story taking place on the Quest. Boromir has to still be alive. Pippin and those 'other hobbits' think about their different impressions of Boromir and vice versa as they all get to know one another. Should be a little humorous, a little introspective, include a few surprises. Don't go too awfully heavy on the Sam parts. Oh yeah, and throw in some holly! It *is* Yuletime after all.
Rating: G
Setting: Somewhere between Rivendell and Hollin, on the Quest
Characters: the Fellowship
Summary: Gandalf observes the interactions between the hobbits and Boromir.

To Wait for Sun's Returning

I cast an eye over my flock. The hobbits have seemed to be over their homesickness today, pleased that we had acknowledged the turning of the year yestereve, and spent a little time to celebrate out here in the Wild. Today would have been Second Yule back in the Shire, but that is not so much of a family day as First Yule. And they rested better through this day--I think that we will make some distance tonight on our journey. I was sure it would not take them long to get used to our pace. Hobbits are much tougher than they look.

As Sam prepares the evening meal, Boromir takes Merry and Pippin aside to practice with their weapons. It makes me sorrowful to watch, for hobbits are not a warlike race, and I have a dark foreboding that these skills will be needed--and with them, a sad loss of innocence for my young friends. This time Aragorn has consented to assist with the sparring, while Gimli feeds Bill. Legolas has gone to scout the trail ahead--I wish to be on the move before moonrise.

"Frodo," Merry says, "don't you think it is time for you to learned how to use Sting? I know that your shoulder is still tender, but I think the exercise will do it good!" The Brandybuck is coaxing, and I know that the lad is worried about Frodo's lack of skill with his weapon.

But Frodo shakes his head, and indicates that he will just watch. Merry and Pippin exchange a look of resignation, and Pippin shakes his head, perhaps warning Merry to leave the subject alone. Frodo goes to sit atop a rock, and smiles fondly at his cousins, as they practice the forms and stances Boromir has given them. I wander over and stand behind him.

"Boromir is very good to them, Gandalf," he says, as he quickly senses my presence. "So is Strider, but somehow it surprises me more in Boromir, that he puts up with their nonsense. Boromir seems such a dignified and private person."

Much like the one making the observation, I think. However dignified and private Frodo may be, he has always been patient with his younger cousins. Aloud, I say, "Well, he likes young people. He is very fond of his brother, who is five years younger than he."

Frodo nodded. "Five years seems to be a wider age gap among Men, I'm thinking, than it is among hobbits."

"It is somewhat in childhood, though as the years pass it matters far less."

Frodo considers this a moment and then nods, saying "Boromir is a noble Man. I am glad that he is with us!"

We are silent as we watch the lesson. Boromir sets the two hobbits to attack Aragorn, as he advises them of the best way they can combine their skills to bring their larger adversary down. Aragorn cooperates by moving slowly, and heralding his moves in advance. The Dúnadan allows himself to fall gracefully to the ground under the hobbits' enthusiastic onslaught. Boromir nods, and Merry and Pippin excitedly congratulate themselves. Then Boromir has them repeat the exercise, only this time Aragorn defends himself quickly, and the hobbits realize that they cannot win over their larger opponent under this new—and more realistic--circumstance. They drop back and quit, dismay written all over their faces.

"Never mind, my lads. It has to come with practice," Boromir says. "Yet I think that is enough for one evening."

And now he and Aragorn decide to spar. Merry and Pippin come over to sit with Frodo, and we watch as the two of them begin their swordplay. The clang of weapons concerns me; but we are far from any who might observe us. I have seen no signs of crebain or other spies of the enemy, so I make no protest. It is as good as a dance, to see these two warriors enjoying their sport. Aragorn is doubtless the superior swordsman, but he is not pulling his blows, and Boromir is giving him a good match.

"Good old Boromir!" Pippin cries, a grin on his face.

"If I were wagering," saysid Merry, "I'd put my money on Strider."

Frodo casts a sharp look at Merry, and says, "I don't believe that you need to be thinking about wagering." It is said sternly, in his most repressive older cousin manner, for Frodo disapproves, as do most Bagginses, of wagering.

Merry refuses to be repressed, and simply chuckles at his cousin's reprimand. "No point in wagering while we are wandering out here in the wild."

Pippin arches a brow, and says, "It wouldn't have anything at all to do, of course, with Frodo putting a stop to you and Sam wagering over throwing stones the other day, would it? I think the stakes were to be the carrying of certain items."

Merry glares at Pippin, and Frodo chuckles. "He should be grateful to me. Sam would have won, and Merry would even now be carrying the extra blankets as well as all of the potatoes, if I remember correctly."

The two Men come to a flurry of blows, both of them grinning widely, which captures the hobbits' attention once more.

"Well, I would not want to wager against either one of them," Pippin says stoutly. "They are both my friends!"

Just then Aragorn, with a flick of his wrist, sends Boromir's sword flying.

Boromir's initial look of surprised dismay quickly gives way to a grin and a shake of his head. "I must see how you did that!" he cries. Retrieving his sword, he and Aragorn slowly replay the series of moves.

"Aha!" says the Gondorian, as they come to the crucial move. He stops and repeats the same flick that Aragorn had used.

The hobbits have been watching with amazement. Frodo arches a brow, and gives Merry a significant look. "Boromir," he says emphatically, "is a good loser."

Merry purses his lips. "And what do you mean by that?" he asks, though it is quite clear that he knows.

Frodo refuses to be drawn. "Exactly what I said, cousin."

Pippin chuckles. "He means, Meriadoc, that you could learn from Boromir's example."

Merry chooses to get huffy. "I don't know what you mean by that, Pip! Since when am I not a good loser?"

This causes Pippin and Frodo to exchange a look of incredulity, followed by laughter from both of them. Merry tries to maintain his look of injured pride, but soon enough a twitch of his lips and a small chuckle indicate that he has taken the point.

Just then, Sam calls out that the food is ready, and Merry and Pippin dash to the cookfire, with Frodo following at a slower pace. The two Men sheathe their weapons, and walk up to the fire, where Gimli has already seated himself. Merry and Pippin are dishing up the food, when Legolas returns with the news that our path ahead will be clear.

As we eat, Merry and Pippin choose to sit quite near Boromir, one on each side of him. The talk turns once more to Yule, though this time the discussion is merry, and not melancholy as it was yesterday. The two young hobbits ask Boromir about the Gondorian customs.

"You don't celebrate the turning of the year?" Pippin's curiosity borders on the incredulous. "No feasts? No greenery? No gifts?"
Boromir looks down at him. "We do acknowledge the turning of the year, most certainly. But not in the way you do in the Shire. For us, the turning of the year is a solemn time, a time to reflect on the previous year, and to plan for the new one. We do have our traditions."

"What sorts of traditions?" asks Merry.

"Well, what you call 'First Yule', we call 'Yestarrë' or 'Last Day'. On that day, we fast, and remember the year. Most people on that day make a list of all their failings during the year, the things they have done wrong or the things they ought to have done, but left undone. If there are any close to us, whom we have hurt in any way, we seek their pardon on that day. We reflect on our list, and then at the end of the day, we give it to the flames." Boromir looks off into the distance, and I can tell he is thinking of his father and of his brother. From my knowledge of Denethor, I am sure that Boromir is recollecting the ways in which he failed his father on this journey. But I, myself, am quite certain that what Denethor would consider failures in this regard, are nothing of the sort.

"That seems a rather gloomy way to celebrate," says Merry doubtfully. "I certainly don't like the idea of fasting! And why dwell on your failures?"

Pippin looks up at the Man thoughtfully. "I think it sounds like a good idea, myself --not the fasting part, but the list!" he says stoutly. "Then you can put it all behind you for good and all! So long," he adds, "as you do put it behind you. Some people might just keep on thinking about it even after they burn their list."

Ah! My wise little fool of a Took! He has a large heart himself, and often sees true into the hearts of others. He reminds me a good deal of his Great-grandfather Gerontius. Not just for his pointed face and sharp green eyes, nor his Tookish impulsiveness, but also for his generosity of spirit--a quality he also shares with Frodo. It is clear he has given his friendship and loyalty to this Man of Gondor, and love lends him insight. He can tell that Boromir bears a burden, though what it may be he knows not. Alas, I fear that I do, for I suspect he has been hearing the whisperings of the Ring since our leavetaking of Rivendell. My poor Boromir, too long have you lived in the shadows of despair. Still, I have hope for you! And I hope even more, now that you have earned the love of hobbits!

Frodo has been taking note of the conversation. He nods, as if to himself, and then asks, "So what do you do on 'Metarrë'?" he asks, getting a look of surprise from everyone except Aragorn, who chuckles to himself. Gimli is blinking in amazement, and Legolas' eyes have widened.

"How," asks Boromir, "did you know what we call 'First Day'?" He is genuinely surprised, for he has been told by all and sundry how isolated the Shire is. To hear the word from a hobbit is unexpected.

Frodo shrugs. "Uncle Bilbo taught me much. But just because I know the word does not mean I know your traditions."

Boromir laughs at this answer. "We do celebrate on that day. We make another list, this time of the things we hope to accomplish during the coming year, and of the bad habits we hope to break! Families hold a small feast in the evening, and the children wear wreaths of laurel upon their heads. At the end of the meal, all read out their lists to one another."

I cast an eye over the Company, to see that the meal is nearly finished, and another eye at the sky. I stand up and say, "Speaking of the 'end of the meal', I do believe that we have come to it. Come now, let us break camp and prepare to leave! I wish to be away from here before the Moon shows himself over the mountains..."

Merry and Pippin gather up the dishes and pans and carry them down the rise to a small streamlet that runs through a copse of holly trees. They are gone rather longer than usual for the task, and I wonder if they have found something to distract them. I am considering sending Gimli down to fetch them, when they return. Merry is carrying most of the dishes, and Pippin has some greenery in his hands. As they draw nearer, I see that he has a small wreath of holly--so that was what they'd been doing!

Merry delivers the clean crockery to Sam and Frodo for packing, and Pippin comes over to Boromir, holding up the wreath.

"I'm sorry we couldn't find any laurel. I don't think it grows much around here. I hope the holly is not too prickly!" The young hobbit is smiling broadly, but I can sense a bit of anxiety behind his friendly look--will this Man be offended by their gesture? Merry is watching, biting his lower lip and holding his breath. He not only does not wish to offend Boromir, but he is also worried that Pippin's feelings might be hurt if the Man rejects their little offering.

Boromir turns with a start, and his quick indrawn breath he changes to a cough. Ah, but his acquaintance with hobbits is yet too new, for him to feel completely at ease among them. Men of Gondor, unlike hobbits, are not in the habit of wearing their emotions on their sleeves. He is touched by the hobbits' thoughtfulness, I think, though he seeks to cover such tender emotion lest they think it weakness in him.

With a quizzical expression, he reaches hesitantly down to take up the holly wreath. He examines it carefully, and then says "I thank you for thinking of me, Merry and Pippin," and places it atop his head. I smile to myself, congratulating him on not wincing--the holly must be prickly, after all. He casts a look at the rest of us, daring anyone to laugh. But I see no signs of amusement from Aragorn, Legolas or Gimli, and Frodo and Sam are looking quite pleased. As for Merry and Pippin, they grin to see that he has accepted their gift.

As we begin our nightly walk, Merry and Pippin place Boromir between them.

"Now, Boromir," says Merry, "you must tell us what you hope to accomplish this year!"

The Man is silent for some time, and I am listening for his answer, as are the young hobbits. Frodo is at my side, and I know that he, too, wonders what the answer will be.

Pippin grows anxious about the Man's silence, and blurts out, "But we did not do the part about the regrets!”
“What regrets?” asks Merry.

Pippin thinks a moment, and then ticks off a few on his fingers, "Well, perhaps I should have spent a bit more time with my sisters and my nieces. And I wish I'd taken better leave of my parents. I didn't know we'd be gone so long as this..." His voice trails off, for in trying to spare Boromir, he has succeeded in making himself melancholy.

And then Boromir speaks. "I think there are only two things this year. I hope to come home to Gondor. And I hope to protect my people."

Pippin reaches over and takes hold of the Man's hand, and after an instant, Merry does the same at his other side.

We walk on in silence for a while.

Then I hear Pippin's voice, soft, low, and clear, raised in a familiar Shire song. Soon enough, the other hobbits join in.

"When night is longest,
When dark is strongest
We set candles burning
To wait for Sun’s returning.
To hope and home and hearth we hold,
Shutting out the dreary cold.
At this time when year has turned,
We think of all we’ve done and learned,
And look unto the coming days.
A song of light and hope we raise:
No night is so long,
No dark is so strong,
To dim the light of Stars above,
Or overcome the might of love."

Pippin begins the song once more. This time, we all join in.


 Title: Comfort and Joy
Rating: G
Summary: Frodo gets a good deal of comfort from news across the Sea...
A/N: This takes place during my story "Ancestress",chapter nine, "Adamanta Calls Again".

Comfort and Joy

Frodo stopped at Gandalf's side, and gazed upward. The Tower of Avallónë was every bit as tall as the Tower of Ecthelion in the Citadel at Minas Tirith-- and it was white. But there the resemblance ended. This tower was smooth as glass, and though it was day, it gleamed like moonlight. There was an arched door of finely grained wood, and the grain had been matched to created a pattern. The lintels of the door were carven in an intricate design of twining vines and leaves. And at the very top, the tower was pierced by four windows--each facing a different direction. Other than that, it was completely smooth and featureless. It was a marvel of Elven design, and though he had been here once before, it still amazed him.

"Come along, Frodo, do!" said Gandalf impatiently, sounding much as he had sounded during the days of the Quest. Frodo hid a smile, nodded, and followed the wizard to the door.

Gandalf placed the palm of his hand squarely in the center of the beautiful door. It silently opened wide. He followed Gandalf over the threshold. They were in a small hall, and in front of them a spiral staircase rose up through the center. The staircase was fashioned of some dark metal that had a greenish sheen to it.

"It is a shame that Bilbo would not come with us," said Gandalf.

"He said once was enough. I think it embarrassed him that you had to carry him most of the way last time."

"I daresay," Gandalf replied, and he began to mount the stairs. Frodo followed him. It was a long and exhausting climb to the top, yet he felt a certain amount of pride that he had accomplished it once-- he knew that this time would be easier. His stamina and health had improved immensely since their arrival on the Blessed Isle.

He had much time to reflect as he climbed, just two stairs behind Gandalf. In the weeks since arriving here he had come to feel so much better than he had been feeling before leaving the Shire. He and Bilbo were comfortably set up, in an apartment within the dwelling of Elrond and Celebrian, very similar to the sort of quarters Bilbo had inhabited during his years in Rivendell, but suitable for two hobbits, not just one. He had come to feel so much better just in his voyage to these Western shores.

And then he had encounters: with the Mistress of Sorrows, Nienna, and with the Lady of the Stars, who had somehow helped him to see just what it was that the Quest had meant.

Most of all, he had found a friend in the Lady Celebrian, and her understanding had helped him to feel cleansed finally of the taint of the Ring. He knew that already he was well on his way to healing, if not fully there yet.

But something was yet missing for him. He had wondered for a while if he was even a hobbit any more. Bilbo, of course, had ways of reminding him that "yes, he was still a hobbit", even if no longer of the Shire. But there was so much here that, while beautiful, was alien.

And he missed other hobbits. What, he wondered, would be Sam's reaction to this Tower? Or Merry's? or Pippin's? So often he would encounter something, and think "I must show this to Pippin!" or "Merry would love that!" or "I have to tell Freddie about this!" He held tightly to the promise that someday Sam, at least, would get to share some of this with him...

His calves were beginning to ache. They were nearly to the top now. Frodo wondered what he would see this time?

The staircase came to an end in the centre of a large room filled with sunlight, pouring in through the four large arched windows. It was paneled in a golden wood, and carved beams met in the middle of the arched ceiling. A plinth of white marble stood a few feet from where they entered. A cloth of deep blue silk covered the round item set in its top. This was the Stone that had been brought back from across the Sea. Behind him, he knew, from his previous visit, stood another similar though larger plinth, in which was set the Master Stone. Gandalf walked past the marble column to the window on that side, the one facing East. Frodo followed, and they gazed out.

Their view was unobstructed for miles and miles; below was the shining city, beyond that the fields and woods of the Isle--and beyond that, nothing but Sea, vast and seemingly endless. And yet, Frodo knew, it did end, and at the other side of that Sundering Sea were his friends and kin-- those with whom he would never speak again-- save one. He felt a brief and sharp pang of regret-- soon lifted, for he knew that if he had stayed he would soon have been lost to them anyway. He felt Gandalf's hand upon his shoulder, an unspoken question: was he ready?

He nodded wordlessly, and turned. The two of them went back to where the Stone was set, and Gandalf reached out and lifted away the silk. Frodo moved in front of it, and gazed into its opalescent depths, Gandalf's hand a steadying and comforting presence. The fires within the Stone sparked and writhed, and then seeming cleared to show the view from the window-- save it seemed to draw them out and through, over those fields and woods, high above the City and then even higher.

They soared above wisps of cloud, looking down upon the wheeling gulls and the whitecaps of the waves. They saw the leaping of dolphins and the spouting of the large whales. They moved more and more swiftly, until they began to see the sails of boats, and then the faint line of the sea-strands of Ennor. There was the beautiful harbor of Mithlond, and beyond the moors and rolling hills and the Towers.

And there was the Shire!

Frodo felt his heart leap with joy at the sight: the green hills dotted with trees and sheep; the glittering streams; the chalk-downs; Michel Delving...they paused only briefly at the Great Smials. Frodo expected that next they would find themselves overlooking and then looking into, Bag End, as they had upon his last visit, when he had caught a glimpse of Sam and Rose and baby Elanor. But no, they continued on, there was the Woody End; the Marish-- and Frodo spared a smile and a thought for old Farmer Maggot and his kindness--there was the Ferry! Were they going to look in on Merry and Pippin at Crickhollow? he wondered, as they seemed to slow, going in lower and lower.

But no! The destination seemed to be Brandy Hall! Small patches of a recent snowfall lingered in the shady spots of Buck Hill. He grinned at the sight of the Hall, lightly dusted with snow and a perfectly huge wreath of holly and ivy, festooned with scarlet ribbon, that hung from the large round door at the main entrance. Of course! Gandalf had told him that it was Yuletide in the Shire, and where else would he be at Yule but Brandy Hall? 

It was early in the day it seemed by the light. Perhaps just after elevenses? To his surprise, he saw himself looking into a room that was familiar, yet different than he remembered. It was the apartment set aside for the Son of the Hall, the one in which he had lived for many years with his Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda and little Merry. Merry had lived in it very briefly, after he had come of age but before the Quest, and his cousin had made some changes. But there was Merry, getting dressed in his best finery, and with him-- Sam! So that was why they had not stopped at Bag End! The Gamgees had gone to visit the Brandybucks. He laughed aloud, so delighted was he about it.

He couldn't hear what they were saying-- the palantíri were never meant to do that. But he watched as Sam apparently made some jest. Merry laughed, but then his face grew sad and wistful for a moment-- so did Sam's. But then Pippin entered the room abruptly, grinning, carrying a bottle in one hand and three tankards in the other.

Sam looked briefly disapproving, but joined in as the three of them drank to some toast that Pippin made.

It seemed to Frodo that he had moved into the room with them, standing right at Merry's side along with Sam. The door opened again and he smiled to see his Uncle Saradoc, summoning them. Perhaps to the Yule festivities?

He followed them through the winding down-sloped passages, and then into the large main dining Hall--

And laughed again! Had Gandalf known?

Uncle Saradoc stood at the front of the room, near the hearth beside him stood Estella Bolger, a bridal wreath upon her head!

Pippin went to stand by his father, in the front row of those assembled, and Sam! It was Sam! accompanied Merry to stand at his side as witness! In the midst of his joy, he realised-- that would have been his own place, had he been there. Merry had always taken it for granted that Frodo would stand witness at his wedding. He was so pleased that his cousin had chosen Sam. His own words to Sam echoed in his ears: "...all that I had and might have had I leave to you..." Merry could have chosen Berilac or Freddie, but he had chosen Sam. It made Frodo feel even more present.

He watched as Sam spoke the words of witness for Merry, and the signing of the contract-- including Pippin as an eighth signer--"clever Merry", he thought, remembering Sam's wedding and how he had contrived Pippin's signing for Sam and Rose. He laughed once more as Merry soundly kissed his bride-- the two of them broke away, looking slightly dazed.

How long he and Gandalf stood there he did not know, but he watched the dancing and the Feast and, though he could not be heard, he joined his voice in as they sang the newlyweds off back the the little apartment, where the door was firmly closed. But the Yule festivities continued, joyful singing and dancing, welcoming the New Year in. Then he felt himself fading back. He felf a bit dizzy with the abruptness of the change, but he stood once more by Gandalf's side, in the room where the shadows before his feet had lengthened. The sky through the window facing East had dimmed to violet at the horizon, where a few bright stars were sprinkled above an indigo sea.

He looked up at Gandalf, blinking away tears of joy. "Gandalf, did you know? Did you know that today was Merry's wedding?"

Gandalf's dark eyes twinkled. "Did I know? I know much that only the Wise know," he intoned sententiously, startling a hoot of laughter from Frodo. "But no, Frodo, I did not know that. I just felt that it was very important for you to witness this Yule. I am quite pleased that I, too, was a guest at Meriadoc's wedding to the fair Miss Bolger."

Frodo reached out to impulsively hug his old friend-- something he'd not felt free to do in a long time. Gandalf patted him on the back briefly, and then they began the long trek back down the staircase. Frodo felt light and happy. "I can't wait to tell Bilbo all about it! He will be sorry to have missed it..."


In Brandy Hall, Samwise Gamgee and Peregrin Took shared a companionable pipe and an ale in the comfort of the Master's study.

"You know, Sam, it seems odd, but I felt as though Frodo was with us today. I didn't miss him nearly so much as I thought I would. It was like he was standing right by us. Do you think I sound daft? Am I cracked?"

"Not at all, Mr...-- er, I mean, Pippin. 'Cause if you are cracked, then I am too. Once tonight, I almost turned to speak to him, I felt him that near."

Pippin nodded. "I hope Merry felt it too, Sam."

"I'm sure he did! I really am..."



Summary: A Shire Yuletide song of the early Fourth Age, made popular by Thain Peregrin I. The words are said to have been written by Meriadoc the Magnificent, Master of Buckland.
Rating: G
(Author’s Notes: This is a filk, based on the song “Christmas in Killarney”, written by John Redmond, James Cavanaugh and Frank Weldon in 1950, and made popular by Bing Crosby. I woke up last night with the song as an earworm, and realized that the main phrase in the chorus scanned to “Yuletide in the Shire-lands”. Everything comes back to hobbits in the end…)

Yuletide in the Shire-lands

The holly green, the ivy green,
The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen
is Yuletide in the Shire-lands,
With all of the folks at home!

Brush up your toes, put on warm clothes,
We’ll gather the pine-boughs and mistletoe!
The smell of baking, you know of course,
Will guide us all back home!

The door is always open, the neighbours pay a call
For friendship’s sake we’ll have some cake,
And a toast to one and all.

Our hearts are light, our spirits bright,
We’ll celebrate our joy tonight
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands,
With all of the folks at home!

The holly green, the ivy green,
The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen
from Westmarch to the Outlands,
no matter where you roam
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands
With all of the folks at home!

We'll hang the wreaths and garlands while all the Family's here
Around a roaring Yule-log fire,
We’ll raise a cup of cheer!

There's gifts to bring and songs to sing,
And laughs to make the rafters ring
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands
With all of the folks at home.

The holly green, the ivy green,
The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen
from Westmarch to the Outlands,
no matter where you roam
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands
With all of the folks at home!

The children run and play, and hope to see some snow!
We listen to their happy yells
And laughter as we go!

How grand it feels to click your heels,
And dance away to the jigs and reels.
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands
With all of the folks at home.

The holly green, the ivy green,
The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen
from Westmarch to the Outlands,
no matter where you roam
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands
With all of the folks at home!
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands
With all of the folks at home!

Author name: Dreamflower
Recipient's name: Rhyselle
Title: But Seas Between Us Broad Have Roared…
Rating: G
Request: "I'd love a story about any Yuletide during Merry's lifetime, any age from faunt to his last Yule before he dies in Minas Tirith. Please include a mention of a really awful Yule gift (not necessarily one given to Merry. *grin* Thanks!"
Beta: Celeritas  
Summary: During Merry's last Yule in the Shire, he finds himself often lost in memories of Yules past.
Word Count 4,154

But Seas Between Us Broad Have Roared…

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

(Fourth verse of "Auld Lang Syne")

Merry looked out through the frosted window of his study, watching the children squealing and laughing.  There was heavy frost on the ground, and the younger ones were turning as they ran, to watch their footprints behind them.  They were excited, waiting for the uncles and older cousins to bring the waggons so that they could gather the greenery needed.

He smiled a melancholy smile, and made a fist and placed the side of his hand against the windowpane.  Then he used his finger to make five little marks above the handprint, leaving the image of a tiny footprint on the fogged glass.  

"Hullo, Pip," he said without turning.  He felt his cousin's gaze on his back, and knew he was standing in the door.

"Hullo, Merry," Pippin returned.  "I remember when you showed me how to do that.  I couldn't have been more than five or six at the time, and I thought it the most marvelous trick in the world."

"I was six when Frodo taught me how to do that.  We were waiting on Bilbo to arrive for his Yule visit."  He turned to see Pippin coming to his side, his limp more pronounced now, his once-chestnut curls as white as the frost outside.  Of course his own curls were white now as well.  He sighed and turned back to the window again.  "Now I know how he felt that summer before our journey, storing up each memory to last against the days to come."

Pippin stood by his side now.  "We teased him about it then, when we revealed our Conspiracy."

Merry's lips tugged up in an all too brief smile, but then he became solemn again.  "Our last Yule in the Shire, Pippin.  Next year we'll be in the South, and we won't be coming back."

"That's true," his cousin answered. "Are you regretting our decision?"

Merry shook his head.  "No, we are doing the right thing.  It's time."

"Well, we still have time ahead of us—we shan't be leaving until Gondorian New Year!  A good three more months to say all our farewells properly."

"I wish we could have set out right after I got Éomer King's letter."

"It's best we wait for the King's progress when the Court at Annúminas goes back.  You know how Strider would have fretted if we'd set out alone, at our age!"

Merry shrugged.  "Since when did you become the practical one?"

"Since you became the impatient one," Pippin answered, the merriment in his eyes cheering his older cousin as it always had so long as he could remember.  "All these years going about together, some of you was bound to rub off on me eventually, and the other way round as well!"

Merry laughed, and gestured out the window, where three large waggons had pulled up before Brandy Hall.  "Shall we see the small fry off?"

Pippin nodded, and they made their way out, where mothers and aunts and older sisters were seeing the little ones into the waggons.  Someone began singing "The Greening of the Hall".

Cedar, spruce and fir and pine,
All of these will do just fine!
Hollyberries and mistletoe,
Wrapped with ribbons, decked with bows.
From doors and windows and ceiling beams,
We place the ever-living greens!

The greening of the hall!
The greening of the hall!
Come ye laddies and lassies all
For the greening of the hall!

Out in the frost or snow we trek
To find the finest boughs to deck
Each modest cot or finest smial!
The cold may nip till we can't feel
Noses and toeses, but we don't mind
So long as the greenery we can find!

The greening of the hall!
The greening of the hall!
Come ye laddies and lassies all
For the greening of the hall!

Bundled from head to toe in so many layers of clothing that only eyes, noses and toes could be seen, the smallest children were handed into the waggons by older brothers, sisters, and cousins, who joined them gladly.  Any lad or lass over the age of five was eager to join in the fun of the greening.  Mums and aunties stood there with the hampers of provender, and admonitions not to lose scarves or hats or mittens in the cold.  

Merry snuggled back into Frodo's embrace, where they would sit behind the drivers, their backs against the seat.  Merry would have liked to sit near the rear of the waggon and dangle his feet over the tailgate, but that privilege was reserved for the tweens.  He gave a little bounce compounded of excitement and impatience, and Frodo gave him a squeeze.  "Settle down, Sprout!  We'll be going soon—see! Here come Uncle Mac and Cousin Seredic now!"

Sure enough, there they were.  Merry looked jealously at Berilac atop his da's shoulders.  He'd get to ride up front with Uncle Mac!  "No fair!" he muttered.

Frodo pinched him slightly on the elbow.  It didn't really hurt—not through the cloak and the jacket and the jumper and the shirt—but it was enough to remind him that he was not being nice.  He ducked his head, "Sorry, Frodo!"

"That's all right, Merry!  But if you got to sit up on the front seat, then who would sit with me?"

"You could sit up there, too!"

Frodo laughed.  "If all of us sat up there, there would be no room for the drivers!"  

Just then, Uncle Mac shook the reins, and as they set off, Cousin Marroc began singing "The Greening of the Hall"…

"Come ye laddies and lassies all, for the greening of the hall…" Merry joined in softly, then his voice trailed off.

Pippin put his hand on Merry's shoulder.  "Are you all right, Merry?"

Merry smiled.  "Just remembering the last Yule before Frodo went off to live with Bilbo.  He always came back for Yule after that, but it was never quite the same.  That was the last time we went greening when he was a child of the Hall, and not a guest…"

Pippin chuckled. "I sometimes think you wish the world had stopped when you were only six."

Merry looked startled at that, and then chuckled.  "Ah, but then we would never have had you around, would we now?"

"Quite true!  You would never have known how deprived you were not to know my splendid self!"

"Fathers!"  A feminine voice scolded, "You will catch your deaths of cold out here!"  They turned to see Primrose, Pippin's oldest daughter and Merry's daughter-in-law.  Her voice was sharp, but she smiled and there was a twinkle in her eyes.  "Come along!  Perry and Fam are mulling some wine in the front room!"

The two elderly hobbits allowed themselves to be chivvied indoors, as Primrose fussed over them, walking between the two, her arms locked in theirs.

"Tell me truly," she asked as she led them in, "what did you think of little Callie's Yule gift?"

Primrose's granddaughter was not even out of faunthood yet, but she had insisted on making Yule gifts for "Granper" and "Gaffa Mer".  Her offerings had been a pair of very lopsided ginger-hobbits.  The head on Merry's had been the same size as the body, while Pippin's had sported arms nearly as long as its legs.  Both had been liberally dotted with currants-- some of which were meant to represent eyes, noses and mouths, while others apparently were meant to be buttons. The randomness of their placing made identifying which was which problematic.

"Delicious!" proclaimed Pippin.  After all, Primrose herself had made and rolled out the dough.

"I have made and given worse gifts in my day!” said Merry.  “Do you recall the horrible blob of mud I gave Bilbo?  I was quite proud of the vases that Cousin Marmadoc allowed me to perpetrate in his kiln the year I was eight.  But even my own parents never exhibited theirs openly. Mum kept hers in a drawer, and I think Da actually managed to break his. I know Frodo kept his in his room for a while, before it disappeared into a chest somewhere, about the time I began to get old enough to know how dreadful it was.  Bilbo not only showed his off, he took it to Rivendell with him!  I nearly fell over dead from embarrassment when I recognised that thing upon his shelf in his sitting room there!"

Pippin cackled. "No worse than the so-called vase I made by painting a chamberpot, which he also took to show the Elves.  I can only hope he never told them who gave those monstrosities to him!"

"At least Calendula's presents had the advantage of being eaten!" Merry exclaimed.  "She will never know the humiliation of having a fond relative show them off to her suitor when she becomes a tween!"


After the children returned that afternoon, the mothers, aunts, and sisters all went to help them turn the branches into garlands and wreaths for hanging, and the fathers and uncles and adult brothers made themselves scarce.  Several gathered in the Master's study where they sat back with snifters of Buckland's finest apple brandy and pipes filled with Old Toby.  Merry had leaned back and crossed his feet atop his desk.  Facing him in another large and comfortable chair, Pippin had his bad knee propped up on a cushion placed on a footstool.  Joining them were their sons Peridoc and Faramir, Frodo Gardener, Merry Gamgee, Berilac Brandybuck, Moro Burrows, and Folco Bolger.  He took a draw on his pipe and blew an impressive smoke-ring.  He merely smiled when Pippin said, "Not a patch on one of Gandalf's!"

Merry studied the group, not contributing to the conversation about whether they would have an early Spring in the Shire.  His cousins Berilac and Moro were the only ones here of his and Pippin's generation.  Sam had sailed two years before, and good old Freddy had passed that same winter.  Merry was convinced it was her brother's death on top of the broken hip and the lung fever she had suffered that had taken his Estella so soon after.

He glanced at Pippin, who also looked lost in thought.  Pippin had to still be grieving Diamond.  True to her calling as a healer, she had worked tirelessly when an epidemic of the ague had run through Tuckborough last spring—before succumbing to it herself.  Merry had thought for a while he would lose Pippin as well; but the coming of the King's Court to Annúminas had helped them both to rally.

"Uncle Merry?"  

Merry gave a start.  "I'm sorry, Folco.  Did you ask me something?"

"I just wondered if you thought that you and Thain Peregrin will have fair weather for your journey South?"

"I don't see why not.  It's not as though we were setting out in the dead of winter—as we once did."  He looked at Pippin, and the two shared a reminiscent smile.  "Remember Caradhras?" he asked.

Pippin grinned, and together the two of them said: "There's cold, and then there's Caradhras cold!"

The younger hobbits all groaned.  They had heard that tale innumerable times before.  But just then, there was a tap at the study door.

"Enter!" called Merry.

The door opened, and Merry's grandson Theodas stuck his head in the door.  "Grandfather," he said, "Mum says that it's time for the Master to come and view the greening, and then we'll have tea in the main dining hall."

"And then time for the Yule log!" said Pippin as eagerly as though he were a young child again.

The Master and the Thain pronounced the greening to be the most beautiful and most splendid of greenings ever—just as it was every year—and the grand tea followed.  It was already getting dark by the time tea was finished, and the signal was given to bring in the Yule log.

In it came, hauled by Theodas and his son Theodoric, and by Perry and Fam and Dilly and Merry's son Hamwise.  All around voices were raised to welcome the Yule log:

"No shorter now will grow the days--
May the Yule log brightly blaze!
Fill the Hall with pine and holly--
Let us all be bright and jolly!
To the New Year let us raise
Songs of joy and songs of praise!
Though the nights be cold and drear
Within these walls, we’re full of cheer!
Hearts and hands, we’re all together,
Heedless of the winter weather!
Our children all are snug and warm,
Safe from want and safe from harm!
Let joy and laughter loudly ring
To the roof-beams as we sing!
Ever longer grow the days--
May the Yule log brightly blaze!"

Merry watched proudly as Frodo, along with Uncle Seredic, and Cousins Margulas and Marroc, hauled the log into the Hall.  In a few years he would be old enough to help with that duty!  He lifted up his voice to sing along with everyone else.  Little Pippin at his side piped out clearly, even though he was only five, he knew all of the words already, and didn't miss a single note.  

The log was carefully placed into the great hearth, and Old Rory went forward to light the kindling placed carefully to ensure a perfect blaze.  Soon it was burning cheerily away as the hobbits sang more Yule carols.  Frodo came over and picked Pippin up, and joined his own voice to the singing.  Merry leaned against Frodo's side and Frodo placed his unencumbered arm around Merry's shoulders.

Merry glanced over to where his grandfather and Cousin Bilbo were have a quiet conversation in the corner, and frowned in puzzlement.  He knew his family trees well enough, and he knew his grandfather was a dozen years younger than his Baggins cousin—yet Rory looked far older.  How strange…

Soon enough the singing ended, and the signal was given for supper.  As they turned to go back to the tables, Frodo swung Pippin up on his shoulders and looked down at Merry.  "Dancing or stories after supper?"

Merry grinned.  "How about a few dances and then we join Bilbo for stories?"

Frodo laughed, making Pippin giggle and clutch his hair.  "So, you clever Brandybuck, you shall have both!"

The Yule log popped in the hearth, drawing Merry out of his reverie.  He knew now why Bilbo had looked so much younger than Old Rory.  He shook his head.  

Now he was Master and time to call his clan in to supper.  There would be dancing after, and stories.  Now that Sam had left, he and Pippin were the ones who told the stories in the side parlour…  

Changes, so many changes…

"And there I was, with no more sense than a goose, I go and chuck a stone down that well!  Down, down, down it fell until I thought it would never stop—then PLUNK! And plunk! plunk! plunk! it echoed, sounding louder than anyone would ever have thought in the darkness!  I thought my heart would stop!  'Fool of a Took!' Gandalf growled at me from beneath his bushy eyebrows, and I swear I had never seen him so angry!  Fool, he said and fool I felt…"

Merry had told his share of stories earlier, mostly funny ones about Boromir falling in the thorn thicket, or of Gimli and Legolas and their endless bickering, even after they had become fast friends.  But now the younger ones were gone, and Merry gladly let Pippin tell this grimmer tale of a journey in the dark to the older children and tweens who remained.  Outside he could hear the sounds of the hobbits at the bonfire, and from the dining hall there was still music going on for dancing…

But he was weary, and to his dismay, growing even more melancholy.  This night was also his wedding anniversary, and now Estella filled his thoughts.  His wedding had been joyful, but still he couldn't help but wish that Frodo had been there to stand with him.  It was still an ache after all these years.  He remembered the night he and Estella had set the date for their wedding…

Merry and Estella fetched their cloaks, and headed out of the smial. As they went, they were passed by Merry’s Aunt Hilda, wearing a grim expression. Uh-oh, he thought. Celandine’s slipped her leash. Probably with poor Moro. He caught Estella’s eye, and she giggled. She had come to know Celandine’s ways pretty well when she had stayed at Brandy Hall during the Troubles.

They passed outside into the chill of the Yule night, and holding hands, wandered in the direction of the River. They did not at first speak, but just enjoyed being together and not under scrutiny. The wind picked up a bit, and they stopped beneath a large oak, with a bole wide enough to break the wind. As they leaned against it, Merry drew his Elven cloak out enough to bring it around Estella, and draw her close.

They leaned together, and looked up through the canopy of tree to the stars sparkling in the clear winter sky. Merry pointed. “There. That’s Eärendil. Did you know that star is actually Lord Elrond’s father?”

Estella looked at him incredulously. “Do you really expect me to believe that? I know you told me about Eärendil and Elwing, but surely that’s just a pretty story!”

“That was my reaction when Frodo told me. I never believed it, either, until it was confirmed for me from Lord Elrond’s own lips. And if you’d ever met him, you’d know that he’d never jest about such a thing.”

She looked at the stars with renewed interest.

Merry squeezed her shoulders a bit. “Have you enjoyed your Brandy Hall Yule?”

“I have. And you?”

His eyes briefly clouded. “Only one thing would have made it better.”
He could tell by the look on her face that she knew he was talking about Frodo. But she didn’t say anything.  

“Estella, I was thinking--why don’t we have our wedding next Yule? We will have been betrothed for a decent interval by then. I don’t want to wait all the way until spring. And by then, surely Frodo will feel up to coming to Brandy Hall. He can’t say no if he’s standing for me at my wedding.”

Estella gave a little shiver. “Merry, it’s not very good luck to talk of the wedding before we’re officially betrothed.”

He looked down at her, distress in his grey eyes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you, I was just thinking aloud.”

She shook her head. “I’m being silly! Of course a Yule wedding sounds lovely!”

Of course, thought Merry, they'd no idea that by the next year Frodo would have gone across the Sea, the cold grey Sundering Sea.  He took a deep breath and stood up.  Pippin stopped his story and looked up at him, but he shook his head.  "Go on with your story, Thain Peregrin.  I bid you all a good night and a Happy First Yule!"

"Happy First Yule, Master Meriadoc!" chorused the children, and then turned their attention back to Pippin.  Merry could feel Pippin's concerned eyes on his back, but there was nothing his cousin could do for him tonight.

He made his way to the Master's quarters.  One of the servants had made up the fire and turned down the bed.  He did not bother to light a candle. Between the firelight in the hearth and the moonlight through the window there was plenty of light to undress and get into his nightshirt.  The sheets were cold and the bed felt very large.  As he did every night, he gathered up the pillow that had once been Estella's and held it close to him as he tried to find sleep.  

Their wedding had been beautiful.  There had actually been a smattering of snow, and when it stopped the skies had been brilliant with stars.  Merry had expected to miss Frodo fiercely, yet for some reason he had felt as though Frodo was there, his presence so close, even as Sam stood next to him as witness, in the place he'd always planned for Frodo to stand.  He'd felt a peace, as if his beloved cousin was telling him all was well, and how proud he was.  

And he'd felt nothing but joy as he'd gazed into the face of his bride. His Estella, his heart. They'd slipped away between the feasting and the dancing, and had celebrated their love in Merry's bed, and lain sated afterwards, listening to the singers outside at the bonfire below the window...

As he could hear them now at the bonfire…

"When night is longest,
When dark is strongest
We set candles burning
To wait for Sun’s returning.
To hope and home and hearth we hold,
Shutting out the dreary cold.
At this time when year has turned,
We think of all we’ve done and learned,
And look unto the coming days.
A song of light and hope we raise:
No night is so long,
No dark is so strong,
To dim the light of Stars above,
Or overcome the might of love."

He heard another voice, a familiar and long-missed voice join the singing.

"Frodo?"  He saw his cousin, his once dark curls as white as Merry's own, lines of laughter limning his face.  But the blue eyes were as clear as ever they had been.  He was dressed in a loose white shirt and breeches, and Merry realised they were standing on the shore of the Sea—but this Sea was not cold and grey, but warm and blue and green.  He felt a stab of disappointment.  "I suppose I am dreaming," he said.

"So we are, cousin." Frodo emphasized the we.


"Yule is difficult sometimes, isn't it?"

Merry nodded.  "There are so many to miss.  Estella, my heart! And Sam, and Freddy, Mum and Da—and-- you.  I've missed you so long, so very long…"

"I know.  I've missed you, too, and Pippin, and others in the Shire whom I never thought about missing before I left.  It's been a long time."

"We're leaving the Shire, Frodo, Pip and I.  We can't stay any longer.  Rohan calls me, Gondor calls Pippin…do you think us dreadful to abandon our families?"

"As I abandoned mine when the Sea called me?" Frodo asked.  But he was smiling.  "I always knew this time would come for you both.  You have another family waiting to spend time with you, Éomer wishes to farewell you, and then you will have time to spend with Aragorn and Arwen and Legolas and Gimli and Faramir and Éowyn.  Buckland and the Shire will go on without you."

Frodo reached out his arms, and though Merry feared that the dream would dissolve, he could not resist a chance to embrace his cousin.  But the embrace felt real, and Frodo felt warm and solid, and the tears Merry wept upon his shoulder felt wet upon the soft cloth of Frodo's shirt…

He must have drifted into other less vivid dreams, for that was the last he remembered until he was wakened by the sounds of giggles and a knocking on his door.  He blinked at the light of the Sun coming in his window, and sat up on his elbow.  "Come in!" he called.

The door opened and his three youngest grandaughters, Dilly's little lasses Aster, Emerald and Rosebud all stood there with a tea trolley almost too large for them to push.  Rosebud could barely see above the top of it.  But it bore a tray from which the most delightful smells were emanating.  ""Happy Second Yule, Gaffer Merry!  We brought you tea!" exclaimed Aster, the eldest, who was nearly sixteen.

"So you have, my dears!  And did you bring enough for yourselves as well?"
And after they shared a splendid first breakfast, he dressed and marched down the passage with them as they sang:

Come now, good hobbits, be of much cheer,
And let's raise a toast to the coming New Year~
May each day dawn bright and fair,
Free from want and free from care!
May the year be short on sorrow,
And long on joy with each new morrow!
May the Shire know peace and plenty,
That no larder may go empty!
And blessed be the earth we till,
That each belly may have its fill!
May the ties of family, too,
Be strengthened by hearts warm and true!
May each hobbit have a hand to hold,
And love for all, both young and old!
Let the halls with laughter ring,
As to the New Year we gladly sing!


End Notes: This story takes place just before Merry and Pippin leave for their retirement in Gondor, and event mentioned in the Tale of Years.  In my version, the letter from Rohan arrived earlier in the year.  King Elessar and his Court are at Annúminas, and the plan is for the two elderly hobbits to travel with them for safety's sake. There are some references to a couple of my other stories, and Merry's memory of him and Estella discussing their wedding comes from my story "It Takes a Took".

The "awful present" in this story was inspired by a bit in the children's classic Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, while the presents Merry and Pippin recall were featured in my story "Recycled".

The first song in the story, "The Greening of the Hall" was written especially for this story. All other songs have appeared in previous stories of mine.



It's been a long time since I wrote a story that was not either a WIP or an exchange story or a challenge story. But this one came to me tonight after the Children's Pageant at church, and I came home and just wrote it all up at once. And though it's been a very long time, I thought this was a good place for it.

Rating: G, but a little angsty
Summary: It's the Year of the Troubles, and the Year is Turning but the Troubles aren't over yet. Pippin's sister Pimpernel ponders what the New Year might bring. Will her brother ever come home?

The Darkest Night

First Yule, S.R. 1418

Pimpernel carefully blew out all the candles in her sitting room and placed a screen before the hearth to block the firelight.  Her father had ordered that all windows in the Great Smials be shuttered at night, lest the Ruffians get an archer close enough to send an arrow through a lighted window. But she ached for a bit of starlight. Silently she opened the window and pushed the shutters open. She breathed in the frosty air, and then looked up. But not a single star was to be seen; the sky was cloudy and overcast. Even the Moon was hiding behind the clouds. Tears sprang to her eyes, and with a disappointed sigh, she closed the window. Not even a star tonight. Truly, it was the darkest and longest First Yule she could recall.

Not that there had been any celebration this year. The Thain was still mourning his son. And he feared that Ruffians might take advantage of a hobbit holiday to spring through their defenses. She relit one of the candles and walked over to the nursery, pushed the door open. Little Flora and baby Alyssum were both sound asleep, Flora in her tiny cot, and Alyssum in her cradle. Neither of them was old enough to realise they were missing a special day; she was glad of that. If they were only a little older they'd be wanting to green the hall and anticipating presents, neither of which would happen this year.

Milo was out with the Tooks, with the patrols on the perimeters of the Tooklands. He would not be home for a few more days—he had to be home in a few days. There were some who had not come home. One killed by a Ruffian archer, and several captured and dragged off to the Lockholes. She shuddered and pushed the thought away.

And then there was the spectre that haunted the Great Smials ever since the end of Halimath, not that anyone had seen Pippin's ghost. No, it was just that he was conspicuous by his absence. Her father would not speak of him, and so no one else did either, at least not in front of his parents or sisters.  But he was missed; he would have found ways to cheer everyone up even in these horrid circumstances if he had been here.

Only Aunt Peridot had defied her younger brother, and had brought out her lap harp tonight and played one of Pippin's favorite Yule tunes; it was a long slow and melancholy tune, altogether fitting to the longest night, but the words looked forward to the dawn.  And Paladin had glared at her, and she had glared right back, and so had Aunt Primrose. He said nothing, but he had not been best pleased.

She found herself humming the tune, and as she did, new words began to fit themselves to the melody in her head. She could not lose those words, for Aunt Peridot clearly believed that Pippin was not dead, and she had raised hope in Pimpernel's heart. The words that came to her were both sad and hopeful, dark and light, grief mingled with anticipation. She placed the candle upon her desk, and pulled out a quill and some parchment, and began to write:

The darkest night is upon us now,
No Moon nor Stars to guide us
With shutters tight
We close in the light,
And trust to silence to hide us.

The dark, the dark with dawn will pass,
The Sun will show her face at last.
Home, Home the lost will come,
And captives will find their freedom.

Once we danced and sang all night
And gave the morn our greeting.
Now widows weep
As children sleep,
And hearts with sorrow are bleeding.

The dark, the dark with dawn will pass,
The Sun will show her face at last.
Home, Home the lost will come,
And captives will find their freedom.

Hold tight to faith and hope and love
Light candles for tomorrow.
Day after day
And come what may
Our joy once more will follow.

The dark, the dark with dawn will pass,
The Sun will show her face at last.
Home, Home the lost will come,
And captives will find their freedom.*

She looked at it—she had changed few words as she wrote; it was a fair copy, though marred with a tear. She signed her name at the bottom with the date, and then opened her desk drawer and placed it underneath her appointment book. The book was a new one for the  new year—Milo had gifted it to her quietly a few days ago, when he knew he would be gone during Yuletide.

She looked at it, and took it out. She would do something to affirm her renewed faith that her brother would come home.  She turned to the last page, marked with the days of Foreyule. On the last day she wrote:

"Show my song to Pippin." She closed it with a little frisson of fear. What if her very act of affirmation made it not come true? Some hobbits believed if you spoke of possible good luck it would never come about. She'd never believed that before—but… No, no she would not think that way. He would come home, and so would Milo, and so would Milo's brother Mero, who had been taken to the Lockholes. And so would Merry and Cousin Frodo, and so would Samwise Gamgee. And the Ruffians would be gone! While she was at it, she would make her hopes and dreams big!

She replaced the book on top of the song, closed the drawer, and blew out the candle, and went to her cold and solitary bed.

First Yule S.R. 1419

"What is it you want to show me, Pimmie?" Pippin laughed as she dragged him by the sleeve. Yule this year had been twice as merry and giddy as any Yule before, perhaps to make up for last year. "I could have filled up the corners a little more at Second Breakfast! Haven't all the presents been given out? I love the new scarf and mittens that you made me."

She pushed him into her sitting room. "That's your present for this year. I made a promise to myself to give you last year's gift when you came home!"

Pippin looked down at her in astonishment. "You made me a present last year? I thought everyone had given up on me!" So far as he had known his family had given him up for dead long before Yule. A tear sprang to his eyes and he reached out and gathered her into his long arms. She wept a little against his shirtfront, and then pushed herself away.

"Well, I suppose I had. But then I saw that Auntie Peri had not given you up. And goodness, if the Aunties believed you would come back, how could I not believe it, too?" She sniffled a little, gave him a watery smile, and then walked over to her desk and took the song out, and handed it to him.

He looked at it almost without seeing it at first, wondering what she had written. And then he read it.

"Oh, Pimmie!" His voice choked a little. "This is beautiful!" He embraced her again.

"I want you to sing it, Pippin! I don't want people to forget that even in that terrible year we still had some hope!"

He nodded solemnly. "I will. And I won't forget that you found your faith in me before I got home."


Pippin did indeed sing the song that night, the last song at the bonfire. And the song was sung year after year, even after he became Thain, and long after he had left the Shire. And it was sung not only in the Tooklands, but in Buckland and in Hobbiton and Michel Delving and in the far off Westmarch and all over the Shire, that all hobbits might remember the Year of the Troubles and how they had come out the other side of it with dignity and compassion and courage.

(*A/N: The song will scan to the tune of "Greensleeves".)

Author name: dreamflower02 (pinch-hitter)
Recipient's name: Linaewen ( lin4gondor)
Title:Yestarë in Dol Amroth
Rating: G
Request: "I want a story featuring Imrahil at Dol Amroth, preferably Pre-Ring War; if young Boromir and Faramir are involved, that would be a bonus!"
Author's notes: In the flashback portion of this story, Amrothos is 7, Lothiriel is 2, Erchirion is 11 and Elphir is 14. Boromir is 23 and Faramir is 18.
Summary: During a visit to Dol Amroth after their retirement to Gondor, Amrothos describes one of his favorite memories to Merry and Pippin...

Yestarë in Dol Amroth

From a distance the scene would have appeared to be that of a fond grandfather strolling slowly on the beach with his little grandsons, as they occasionally stopped to look at some delightful treasure in the sand at their feet, perhaps a shell or a water-polished stone or an oddly shaped bit of driftwood. Once they stopped and gazed East at the magnificent sunrise, the sky streaked with fiery colours of rose and orange, blending into pale lavenders and purples beneath the fading stars of night as Anor began her daily journey to the West.

But closer examination would show that the taller of the three was no kin at all to the smaller, and the two smaller figures were no children at all, but two elderly pheriannath with white curls upon their heads and feet.

"This is so beautiful and peaceful!" said one, taking in a deep breath. "Thank you for bringing us out here this morning, Lord Amrothos!"

"You are quite welcome, Master Pippin! It will not be very peaceful later on."

"Ah, yes," said the other pherian. "The Yestarë celebrations you told us of! I look forward to them!"

"We are much less solemn here in Dol Amroth than in Minas Anor, and of course these days in the White City, Metarrë and Yestarë are scarcely even remembered, since the New Year now begins in spring, thanks to the great deed of your cousin." Amrothos looked down, and uncovered a sand ducat with the tip of his walking stick.* Merry bent down to pick it up.

"It looks like a flower," he said. "Or a star." He placed it in his pocket along with some of the other small things he'd found this morning. They would be nice to send along to the great-grandchildren in the Shire...

"Tell us about Yestarë in Dol Amroth," asked Merry.

Amrothos chuckled. When it came to tales, the hobbits were insatiable. "I will tell you of the very first one that I remember--it started much like today, in fact, as my father usually brought us with him for a peaceful stroll before the festivities...

"I was only seven at the time, and Boromir and Faramir had come to visit us for the season...

Imrahil walked along slowly, younger sons and his nephew Faramir orbiting around him. Faramir bore Imrahil's little daughter Lothíriel upon his shoulders, for she was only two and scarcely likely to keep up with the boys upon the shifting sand. Elphir was not with them, for he had been thrilled with Boromir's request that he squire him for the tournament later today and the two of them were deep in preparations. The tournament of the Swan Knights was always a highlight of yestarë celebrations in Dol Amroth. Faramir had smilingly allowed his younger cousin that honour that usually went to him; he would much rather have the traditional walk on the beach with his uncle and younger cousins.

"Amrothos! Away from the water! If you get wet you will have to be sent home to change your clothing, and you will miss the start of the parade!"

At this dire threat, the youngest prince darted away from the tempting wavelets and put himself beyond temptation by coming over to take his father's hand. "Ada! When will it be the parade?"

"When the Sun is fully up, my son, and after we have broken our fast. For I shall not signal for it to begin on an empty stomach."

Erchirion, who had run a little ahead of his father, turned around and walked backwards to ask him "May we have frycakes for breakfast?"

"Yes, we shall have frycakes if you wish, so long as you do not tell your mother!"

"And coffee?"

Imrahil laughed. "I think not! But perhaps you may have lemonade instead!"

"I will have coffee, uncle," Faramir put in firmly, as he bounced Lothíriel and made her squeal.

"That is no business of mine, Faramir. You are of age and your own responsibility. I think you are quite old enough to drink what you please."

Faramir blushed and chuckled, then pointed to some folks just beyond them, coming out onto the beach laden with firewood. "Ah--I see they are beginning to prepare the bonfires already!"

"Yes, many families do that ahead of time, so that they do not miss any of the other festivities. But the servants will take care of that for us."

Their little party had come within sight of the wharf, and people were beginning to notice them. Imrahil knew that they would soon be intercepted by well-wishers and he took pity on his younger sons. "Erchirion, you and Amrothos run ahead and find where the food vendors are and locate the frycakes, so that you may show us when we get there. Amrothos! Take your brother's hand, and stay with him!"

Amrothos scowled a little at this command, but he obeyed and Erchirion grasped his hand firmly as they raced over the sand to the wharf, which was decked with colorful ribbons and already was being crowded by the vendors of food and drink and trinkets. Some of the entertainers who would not be in the parade were there as well. The brothers stopped briefly to watch a juggler before they began their search for the frycake vendor.

The heady aroma of coffee showed them that the coffee vendor was nearby. There were also casks being broached, of small beer and of wine. The Prince did not allow the sale of beer, ale or stronger drink before noon on the holiday. There was a booth selling lemonade, and someone clever had also set up a cart in which they had a block of ice from the mountains, carefully insulated by a blanket and hay. They were selling chipped ice, a farthing for a cupful. While it was winter, the day would still be warm enough to make such an indulgence welcome. There! Amrothos spotted it first and began to yank on Erchirion's hand to lead him to the frycake vendor. The vendor had set up a brazier to heat oil in a large iron spider. Then from a pitcher with a narrow spout he would pour batter in. The ribbons of golden batter would fry up into a puffy treat, which he would then drizzle with honey or sprinkle with sugar, depending upon his customer's fancy. He gave a grin when he spotted the young princes.

"Ah, my young lords! Have you come for my treats?" He took up the pitcher, and gave them an inquiring look.

Amrothos was eager, and started to say yes, but Erchirion jerked his hand in warning. "Thank you, but not yet, Goodman Bandir. We are waiting for Ada."

The vendor smiled and gave a little bow. "As is proper, my lord. I look forward to your custom when his Grace arrives."

Amrothos and Erchirion turned to see what progress their father had made. They were pleased to see he was nearly to the wharf, though he was thronged with people. But Imrahil raised a hand, and the people backed away. "Thank you, my good people," he said, "Give me a chance to break my fast with my children and then I shall give the signal for the parade!" He and Faramir (who still bore Lothíriel) mounted the steps to the wharf. The brothers ran back to meet him.

"Ada! Ada!" Amrothos cried, jumping up and down in excitement. "We found Goodman Brandir!"

"And there's ice, Ada!" added Erchirion. The youngsters led their father and cousin along in their wake back to the frycake vendor, who was quite ready for them. The other food vendors looked on in envy at the man who would get the Prince's custom.

Imrahil took his daughter from Faramir, "Unless, nephew, you would appreciate having honey in your hair?"

Faramir winced at the thought, and immediately handed the little princess over to her father. Imrahil grinned. He was prepared for this rather messy holiday tradition, begun years ago when his eldest was old enough for the walk from the palace to the wharf. He had a pouch at his belt stuffed with handkerchiefs, and he always carried his waterskin--not for the purpose of assuaging his thirst, but for the purpose of wiping sticky fingers and faces.

The frycakes were every bit as delicious as Amrothos remembered. He always had sugar on his, though his brother and sister preferred honey. They had lemonade with chipped ice as well, using the small mugs that hung from their belts by a leather loop. Their mother would not approve of their sharing the cups provided by the vendor. When first her husband had begun this tradition, Lady Lindiriel had been worried about him taking their children off without her or the nursemaid; but she soon learned that while her husband might be more indulgent than she, he was every bit as vigilent about their safety.

Bellies sated, Imrahil and Faramir still sipping at their coffee, the ruling family moved to the head of the wharf, and exchanged greetings with the Mayor and some of the Guildmasters who stood their awaiting their Prince.

Amrothos' eyes widened as he gazed down the main thoroughfare of Dol Amroth and saw all of the brightly decorated wains and the bands of minstrels and musicians and the gaudy mummers, as far as his young eyes could see. He had heard a rumour of a mûmak, but saw no sign of any such amazing thing from here. But he looked up as he heard his father getting ready to start the parade.

"People of Dol Amroth! Let us make merry at the beginning of a new year, that all the year after will be merry as well!" He raised a red silk cloth high over his head and then brought it down.

The Mayor and Guildmasters had placed themselves at the parade's head and began to walk, leading the parade behind them. First was the decorated waggon in which rode "Lady Anor", a maiden chosen by the Guilds for her beauty to represent the waxing of Anor, she wore a traditional gown that belonged to the City--it was of bright yellow, and trimmed with ribbons of red, gold, and darker yellows, and picked out with bright glass beads of the same colours. Her only task was to sit atop the waggon, festooned with ribbons and such flowers as might be found this time of year, and to wave and smile at those who had come to watch the parade.

Each waggon or wain which passed tried to outdo all the others in magnificence and colour. Some presented tableaux which were meant to represent moments in Dol Amroth's history, others were just to be admired for their beauty. The horses or oxen pulling them were also decorated with ribbons and flowers. Sometimes the people on them would present a child with sweets or beads made of trinket-glass. Of course as they passed the Prince's family each of his children were given these. Imrahil confiscated the sweets for later, but all three of his children sported several strands of beads as the parade slowly passed.

Interspersed between them were the entertainers: mummers, jugglers, pipers and drummers, tumblers and flute players. To Amroth's delight there was a mûmak, clearly a baby (for it was only about four times the size of a horse and had no tusks yet, but got up with magnificent barding decorated with false jewels and paint, with a pretty maiden dressed in the style of Harad riding upon its back. It was led by a man who also wore the style of Harad.

Finally the last of the parade came in sight: the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth on their huge chargers, lances bearing pennons which flapped in the breeze. The children shouted out greetings to the knights that they recognized, and especially loudly when Boromir came in sight, with Elphir riding alongside him. They would continue on after the parade ended to the Tourney Field north of town.

Last of all was a carriage, driven by one of the Palace servants and accompanied by several of the Palace Guards. Lady Lindiriel rode within, accompanied by the children's nursemaid and one of her ladies-in-waiting. Led behind was the Prince's steed and Faramir's. The children were handed in to their mother, and Imrahil and Faramir mounted their horses to ride alongside, for they too were heading to the Tourney Field, where they would have lunch in a pavillion, before going to sit in their box and watch the tournament.

Amrothos could scarcely remember lunch--he was still stuffed full of frycakes, but he watched the tourney with excitement. In spite of the fact that Boromir had warned them he was unlikely to win, he was certain that his cousin would prevail.

Boromir did indeed prevail over all others at unmounted swordplay, but though he was very good at the jousting in spite of the fact that this was not a skill much used in the field in the skirmishes he fought in, he yet only came in fourth. This gave him an overall standing of third place. Faramir was very pleased for his brother--Boromir had frankly told him that he did not expect to place, for he was very young compared to the other more experienced knights, and his place among them was honorary due to his relationship to the Prince and the Steward. He did not fight in their company.

Even so, Amroth shouted himself hoarse as he cheered for his beloved older cousin...

"That's all I can recall of that day. The adults would feast and then they and the older children would go down to the bonfires on the beach for music and dancing. Elphir got to go that year for the first time. But the rest of us were deemed too young and were bundled back to the nursery for supper and bed."

"It sounds like an amazing day," said Merry. "We have never had anything so marvelous in the Shire!"

"Ah, but Tuckborough has its Moveable Feast!" said Pippin. "And that is just as marvelous in its own way, if not so colourful!"

As they walked, the hobbits explained to their tall friend that particular custom. He thought how typically hobbity a celebration based on food would be. And he thought with wistfulness of those long ago days at his father's heels. Dol Amroth still had the finest yestarë celebrations in Gondor, and folk still came from far and wide to witness their parades, but somehow it did not seem the same anymore...


  (This traditional Shire Yule Carol is especially popular in Michel Delving where it is the first song sung at the lighting of the Yule bonfire on the town green, and is often sung as a round.)

The Westfarthing Yule-song

The day is short; the night is long.
Merrily, merrily sing this song!
The dark is deep, but light is strong.
Merrily, merrily sing this song!

The Yule log burns bright!
Candles a-light!
Stars in the night!
Come Dawn all is right!

The day is short; the night is long.
Merrily, merrily sing this song!
The dark is deep, but light is strong.
Merrily, merrily sing this song!

The bells they do ring!
The children do sing!
Sparrows a-wing!
Soon will come spring!

The day is short; the night is long.
Merrily, merrily sing this song!
The dark is deep, but light is strong.
Merrily, merrily sing this song!

Oh, Winter will shrink,
Whatever we think!
Before we can blink--
So let's have a drink!

The day is short; the night is long.
Merrily, merrily sing this song!
The dark is deep, but light is strong.
Merrily, merrily sing this song!

Every year I try to write another "traditional Yule carol of the Shire".

Here's my 2015 New Year's Wish for one and all! Imagine the hobbits singing this around a blazing Yule Log:

Good-bye, Old Year, Good-bye!

Good-bye, Old Year, good-bye!
On moonlit wings you fly!
Take your sadness,
Leave your gladness,
Good-bye, Old Year, good-bye!

Good-night, Old Year, good-night!
The stars are twinkling bright!
Your sorrows are past,
But good times will last,
Good-night, Old Year, good-night!

Farewell, Old Year, farewell!
Your days have ended well.
Take your fear,
And leave your cheer,
Farewell, Old Year, farewell!

Good Day, New Year, Good Day!
The Sun shall have her way.
May our joys be bright,
And our sorrows be light,
Good Day, New Year, Good Day!

Hello, New Year, Hello!
The East is all a-glow!
A new day rises,
Filled with surprises,
Hello, New Year, Hello!

Author name: Dreamflower
Recipient's name: Larner
Title: Eucatastrophe: Yuletide in Annúminas
Rating: G
Request: I'd like a story in which Aragorn and Faramir find themselves facing a Yule in Annuminas, snowed in with several Hobbits.
Author's notes: This takes place in the same AU as “Eucatastrophe”. In that AU, due to Gandalf realizing in time that the idea of the Three Elven Rings fading is one of Saruman’s lying curses, they do not fade, and are actually strengthened, and freed to do what they should have done all along. As an unexpected reward it is no longer a one-way trip to Valinor, and Elves there may return to Middle-earth if they so desire. Furthermore, in that AU, Saruman was killed by Quickbeam during the storming of Isengard, so even though there had to be some Scouring of the Shire due to Lotho, the destruction there was not as bad as it would have been otherwise. As a result, although Frodo and Gandalf sailed West to deliver Bilbo to his new home on the Blessed Isle, both of them returned to Middle-earth immediately, Frodo to take up his old life in the Shire, and Gandalf to have a chance to enjoy being among his friends now that his task was ended. This story takes place six years after their return.
(In this AU, the timeline of the early Fourth Age is slightly altered.)
Summary: When the Council of Arnor is hit with bad weather at Yuletide, the King and his Counsellors must make the best of it.
Word Count:j 1,699

Eucatastrophe: Yuletide in Annúminas

First Yule, S.R. 1427

"I don't suppose this is what you had in mind when you made the journey North," said Frodo, leaning forward on the windowsill, and staring through the panes into a sea of swirling white.

Faramir, who stood behind him gazed out at the same view and chuckled. "To be honest, my friend, I do not know exactly what I expected. But this chain of events did not enter my mind."

Laughter erupted behind them as Sam finished proclaiming one of Bilbo's more fanciful humorous verses. Everyone else was huddled about the hearth, a roaring fire lending welcome warmth to the room.

"Your turn, Merry!" said Sam, flushed at the success of his recitation.

Merry grinned, thought a moment, and then said, "Have I ever told the story of the first time that Pippin ever embarrassed me?"

"Merry!" Pippin stood up. "No!"

"Yes. You see he was just a faunt at the time..."

Pippin turned pleading eyes to Frodo, who had turned around. "By all means let us hear it," Frodo said. "And then afterwards I will tell the story of when Uncle Bilbo and Aunt Dora came to tea in Brandy Hall..."

Merry shut his mouth with a snap, and glared furiously at his older cousin, who then winked at Pippin.

"Traitor!" muttered Merry.

Frodo simply laughed.

Faramir watched the byplay between the hobbits with amusement; he had arrived some weeks earlier, come to represent his fief of Ithilien, having left his Uncle Imrahil in charge of Gondor during his absence. He could not say that he had expected his trip to Annuminas to include a blizzard that kept all of them trapped at Yule in the newly finished hobbit wing of the Northern Citadel--the only completed part of the Northern Citadel, at that. The plan had been for everyone to adjourn to the Shire, to the Great Smials, when the Council was ended, where they had been invited to spend the holidays in the newly-built guest wing there. Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli were probably already there. The King had called for a gathering of his Northern Council, and all were to adjourn to the Tooklands when the meeting ended, as it should have, a few days before Yule began. Weather was generally mild enough in Foreyule that it should not have been a problem. The lower floors of the Citadel were complete enough that the Royal party could set up camp there, and the hobbit wing was finished. They would have been comfortable enough for a week of meetings. But a sudden snowstorm had changed everything. Now the week looked as though it might turn into a fortnight or longer if the snow did not abate.

Today was the last day of the year in Shire Reckoning, and the hobbits had asked some of their friends to join them in the warmer and more comfortable finished wing. It had been built with hobbits in mind; bedchambers, water closets, bathing rooms and the large kitchen were are all sized for the Small Folk, but the public spaces were spacious enough to accommodate the Big Folk without stooping or bending over or bumping heads on beams or chandeliers. The sitting and dining rooms and open halls also had furniture of various sizes, wide windows that were arched rather than completely round, and were made cosy with large hearthsides and many rugs and hangings.

The Royal couple, Faramir and his Captain Beregond, some of the King's Guards (including Beregond's son Bergil), the Northern Steward Lord Hador, his brother Lord Hiril, and a few others were among those who had joined Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. Because the planned stay had been brief, none of the hobbits had brought their wives or children. However a family of hobbits had been engaged to staff the wing for cooking and cleaning, Hob and Zinnia Diggle and their tweenaged son Hobson, and daughters Ivy and Fern. The family had prepared a fine meal for them all, while managing not to deplete the stores that might be needed in the days to come. Now all were gathered into the large sitting room that faced West over Lake Evendim.

The King and Queen had been sitting close together on a settee sized for the Big Folk. Now Arwen leaned forward. "I should like to hear some of your famous Yule songs," she said. "It's very pleasant to listen to hobbit singing." She turned her gaze on to Pippin, who was quite helpless to resist it.

"What should we sing?" he asked. "We can't sing of greening the hall, since no one could possibly gather greens in this weather, and the fire's already blazing, so we shan't be bringing in a Yule log either."

As the hobbits began a lively discussion of which song they should begin with, the King interrupted. "Many years ago, when I was Strider the Ranger..."

All the hobbits stopped speaking and turned to him at once.

"...I recall one wintry Yule when Halbarad and I tracked a Warg into the Shire. We destroyed it near the village of Scary. As we wondered how to dispose of the beast so that no Shire-folk might find it, we heard the singing down in the village. There was one I particularly liked, it began 'Come now, good hobbits be of much cheer...'. The melody stayed in my mind, but I could never recollect the rest of the words."

This was all they needed. Pippin began, and soon enough all the others joined in, not only Frodo, Sam and Merry, but most of the worker hobbits who were also there by reason of the snow:

Come now, good hobbits, be of much cheer,
And let's raise a toast to the coming New Year~
May each day dawn bright and fair,
Free from want and free from care!
May the year be short on sorrow,
And long on joy with each new morrow!
May the Shire know peace and plenty,
That no larder may go empty!
And blessed be the earth we till,
That each belly may have its fill!
May the ties of family, too,
Be strengthened by hearts warm and true!
May each hobbit have a hand to hold,
And love for all, both young and old!
Let the halls with laughter ring,
As to the New Year we gladly sing!

The hobbits sang it again, and this time some of the Big Folk joined in. One song led to another: "Sing Tarrilee", "To Wait for Sun's Returning", "The Tuckborough Carol" "It is the Turning of the Year" and many others. Sometimes the hobbits took time to sooth their throats with mulled cider, and the Big Folk contributed songs as well. The King and Queen entranced all with a Sindarin song of the changing seasons from Rivendell, Guardsman Bergil sang a song of winter from the region of Lossarnach, while Faramir was pressed into singing himself and chose a popular song often sung at the Yestarrë festival in Dol Amroth. Pippin was asked to sing a song written by his sister Pimpernel, "The Darkest Night". This melancholy tune was followed by the rollicking tune of "Buckland Yuletide" which had all clapping and tapping their feet.

As the night waned, the snow ceased to blow and the sky cleared. "One more song," exclaimed Frodo, "and then I think we should all seek our beds!"

Good-bye, Old Year, good-bye!
On moonlit wings you fly!
Take your sadness,
Leave your gladness,
Good-bye, Old Year, good-bye!

Good-night, Old Year, good-night!
The stars are twinkling bright!
Your sorrows are past,
But good times will last,
Good-night, Old Year, good-night!

Farewell, Old Year, farewell!
Your days have ended well.
Take your fear,
And leave your cheer,
Farewell, Old Year, farewell!

Good Day, New Year, Good Day!
The Sun shall have her way.
May our joys be bright,
And our sorrows be light,
Good Day, New Year, Good Day!

Hello, New Year, Hello!
The East is all a-glow!
A new day rises,
Filled with surprises,
Hello, New Year, Hello!

As the song finished, Faramir turned once more to the window. He gave an exclamation of surprise. "Someone is coming!"

There were shouts of astonishment as all stared at the distant sight of a sled being pulled by two horses, easily seen from afar against the whiteness of the snow. Who on earth could possibly be travelling through such weather? There were two figures in the sled, and as they drew nearer, one leaped down and began to run lightly over the snow.

"Legolas!" shouted Pippin. "It's Legolas!"

"And Gandalf as well!" added Merry as it drew near enough to see the driver. "Good old Gandalf!"

"But how have they managed to come here through such dreadful weather?" asked Beregond.

Frodo laughed. "Elves pay the snow no mind," he said, "and it seems the cold does not bother the White Wizard, either."

Aragorn just laughed as the new arrivals drew closer; then he sprang to the large round door and regardless of the blast of cold air, raced out to meet the newcomers. He was quickly followed by the hobbits and the rest of the gathering. He sprang at Legolas, laughing and grabbing him in a quick embrace, while Frodo, Merry and Sam all swarmed over Gandalf, hampering him as much as helping him to alight.

Servants were sent to see to the horses and to bring in the many packages and parcels in the back of the sled.

As the two new arrivals stood near the hearth, with goblets of the mulled cider pressed into their hands, Aragorn looked at them. "What on earth possessed you to come out in such a storm?"

Gandalf laughed and exchanged a look with Legolas. "Several worried wives and children and numerous hobbit relatives who were upset that you all could not make it to the Shire; we assured them that we would find you and make sure all was well. And the storm was much less in the Shire than here."

"Well," said Frodo, "this is a pleasant beginning to a New Year!" He raised his own goblet. "A toast to the New Year! May it be filled with many blessings!"

Title: An Unexpected Yule Bounty
Author/Artist: Dreamflower
Format: recipe!fic
Genre: gen
Rating G
Prompt: Cooking Frodo or Elijah.
Summary: While preparing to make a Yule visit to Buckland, Frodo receives a visitor with an unusual Yule gift.
Author's Notes:See the notes at the end. Also, this takes place 2 or 3 years after Bilbo left; I didn't assign a particular year.

An Unexpected Yule Bounty

Frodo closed the front door to Bag End and glanced out the frosted panes of his window. He watched as the carriage carried his Bolger cousins away, and hoped they'd have a safe journey home to Budgeford. They had been visiting for nearly a week, and while he found Fatty and young Estella delightful company, their parents could be wearing. Rosamunda was a Great Smials Took, and was far too taken with the latest gossip and fashions while Odovacar was hardly a scintillating conversationalist, his favorite topic being the weather and trade. Even then he was taciturn; after all he spent most of his time saying "yes, dear" to his wife. Frodo winced; he knew his thoughts were unkind. But he was not feeling particularly charitable to the elder Bolgers--they had spent most of the previous evening trying to persuade Frodo not to make his annual Yule visit to "the wilds of Buckland" as they put it. Odovacar was terrified of the River, and Rosamunda considered the Brandybucks to be outsiders and barely civilised. Frodo had firmly reminded them that Buckland was his childhood home, which quieted Odovacar, but simply turned Rosamunda to reminding him of his parents' "tragic end".

But now they were gone, though he'd miss Fatty and Estella at least, and he had much to do and only two days to do it before he left for Buckland. He began by making a list as he ate a quick second breakfast; tea and toast and some of the porridge left from first breakfast. He'd have something light for elevenses as well, perhaps some fruit and some of the seedcake he had left from tea the day before.

He could have used Sam's help, but the Gamgees had all decided to go to Underhill for the holiday as his sister May had presented the Gaffer with a new granddaughter. Thankfully, Sam had done quite a bit before he left, one of which was to gather the holly trimmings for the wreath on Bag End's front door. Although, like Bilbo, Frodo went to Brandy Hall for Yule, he also followed his cousin's tradition of leaving a cheery wreath which would remain fresh until his return. He also had his gifts for his neighbours: a moderately sized ham for each household on the Hill (another tradition from Bilbo and from his father Bungo before him), and small bags of sweetened nuts for the children. Most of his neighbours would be coming to him with their own offerings to pass along before he left, but some, such as the Widow Rumble, might find the trek uphill a trial. He would take their gifts down in person.

There were of course, the usual tasks of the household, as well as his packing. And he would have to think of what to do with the perishables in his larder before going away. Usually he sent the milk and so forth down to Number 3, but since the Gamgees were away, he'd have to think of someone else.

He got up and began the task of washing up, and decided to begin by dusting the mantelpiece in the front room, smiling as he recalled Bilbo always saying one should always do that first, in case any travelling Dwarves had left any correspondence there. As he methodically made his way about the smial, picking up this or that, he thought of his coming holiday. Brandy Hall at Yuletide always seemed almost a magical place, filled with the laughter of children and the embraces of loved ones. Aunt Esme always saw to it that his favourite dishes were on the table and he could look forward to going out with the adults who took the little ones on the expeditions to collect the greenery for decking the Hall. There would feasting and music and dancing, and he would take his turn in the big armchair by the hearth in the main parlour telling tales of an evening to the youngsters.

As he took a pause to take his elevenses, he pondered which stories to tell. For the youngest of faunts there were always "Tip and Tulip" tales, and for the slightly older, the more humorous and light-hearted parts of Bilbo's adventures went over well. Once the youngest went to bed, he could bring out the more detailed stories the older ones all called for, such as the encounter with Gollum or the fight with the spiders of Mirkwood. But he also liked to bring in a story they'd never heard before, perhaps one of the old Elven tales or a bit of history from the old kingdom. While no one expected the King to come back, it was a good thing to remind hobbits that there once had been a kingdom and a King who had watched over hobbits and the Shire as well as the other parts. He'd have to brush up on some of those stories before he left.

Just as he finished brushing away the seedcake crumbs and took the last bite of his apple with cheese, he heard a rapping at the door. He rose to go answer; it was likely that it was one of the neighbours bringing a Yule gift for the Master of the Hill. He'd yet to bring up the hams from the cold cellar! Well, they could come in and have a cup of tea and give him the chance to bring it up.

It was young Till Twofoot, Daddy Twofoot's grandson, carrying a rather large basket. The child was about Pippin's age, but lacking Pippin's boundless energy. He blushed at the sight of Frodo opening the door; he'd seldom had encounters with the gentry, as Frodo could tell from his whispering stammer.

"G-good morn to ye, M-mr. Frodo." He looked down at his feet.

Frodo bent over slightly. "Good morn to you, as well, Till. What errand brings you up to Bag End today?" he asked in a kindly tone.

Brought to mind of his task, Till dared to look up at the Master of the Hill. "Me granddaddy sent me up with this for you, and he says to tell you Good Yule and Happy New Year, seeing as you're to be gone away during the season and all." He delivered his message quickly, and somewhat louder than a whisper. He held the basket out and then looked down at his toes again.

Curiously, Frodo took the offering. Usually the old fellow sent him a bottle of his homebrew. He opened the basket and his eyes grew wide. "Fresh mushrooms? This time of year? My stars! How?"

Till tugged on his sleeve, and Frodo bent over and Till whispered in his ear: "He grew 'em on a rotten log in the cellar. But don't tell, 'specially Sam. He don't want the Gaffer to know."

Frodo chuckled. There was a friendly rivalry between Daddy Twofoot and Gaffer Gamgee, and he could see that the old hobbit would wish to be one up on his friend. But growing mushrooms in a cellar! Who would have thought it?

"Come in, Till! I've something for you to take back down the Hill." The lad's eyes widened in surprise at the invitation, but obediently stepped into the front hall. Frodo divested him of his jacket and scarf as the child wiped his feet upon the mat. He took the items and hung them on one of the hooks by the door. "There! I've been told that's the very hook that held the hood of Balin the Dwarf, when the Dwarves came to have tea with Bilbo many years ago!"

Till's brown eyes grew huge, and his jaw dropped. "The very same?"

"Yes, indeed!" He led his young visitor to the kitchen and handed him a couple of gingersnaps Sam had given him before the Gamgees left, and went down to the cellar to fetch up one of the hams. He also took some of the bags of nuts from the shelf.

"Let's see, there's Till, and two brothers and a sister, so four." He brought them out to the kitchen, where the child was finishing his second gingersnap. He didn't gobble it down as Pippin or Merry or Sam would have, but nibbled it very slowly, as if he meant to make the treat last. As he licked the last crumbs from his fingers, he glanced up to see Frodo. His shyness seemed to have evaporated.

"Thankee, Mr. Frodo! Those were good--I smelled 'em when Sam and Marigold was a-baking 'em t' other day."

Frodo grinned at him. "You are welcome, Till! Tell me, are your family expecting you to come straight home?"

"No, sir! Me mam said as I could play after, and to come home when I was hungry."

"Would you be able to help with some things then? I will pay you a penny, and feed you lunch if you can give me a hand with some things."

"A whole PENNY?" the child exclaimed, nearly overcome by the thought of such wealth.

"Indeed," Frodo replied, thinking to himself of the child's amazement if he gave him a silver instead of a copper. He could share that with his whole family and still have a copper for himself.

Till nodded enthusiastically. "What do you need me to do?"

"Well, first of all, let's put these mushrooms away, and then pack this ham in the basket and..." he held up one of the bags "...these are for you and your sibs, a bag for each of you."

Frodo took down a large bowl from the cupboard, and the two of them carefully placed the mushrooms into the bowl. He noticed that they were pretty clean, with only a bit of compost clinging to them here or there. He filled the bowl to heaping, and decided on what he would make for lunch.

Once that was done, Frodo had the lad help him bring the rest of the hams up, so they would be available for him to distribute later. Till assisted him to hang the wreath Sam had made, and then helped Frodo finish his cleaning of the smial. He fetched Frodo's travelling blanket and pack from one of the mathom rooms, and as Frodo filled his pack, he sent Till to stoke up the fire in the kitchen.

With most of his tasks for the day finished, Frodo soon joined the lad there. "Well, Till, you've done a fine job in the kitchen, I see. Would you like to help me make our lunch?"

Till's eyes lit up. "Oh yes, Mr. Frodo! Me mam's taught me how to do lots of things in the kitchen. I can make a breakfast fry-up almost all by myself!"

"That's good to hear, lad." He handed the child a large tin bowl. "I need some things fetched from the larder: a knob of butter, an onion, and some sprigs of thyme and rosemary. The herbs hang beneath the shelf where you will also find the onions, they are on the left, within your reach. And then down to the cold cellar, where you'll find a crock of nicely soured cream--it's the smaller blue one on the second shelf to your right. And just above that is a glass jar of broth. Do you think you can handle all that in one trip without breaking anything?"

Till nodded. "This is a big bowl. But if I'm not sure I can make two trips just as easy."

"You are a wise lad. Why, you know my cousin Pippin, who's your age would have been on the way without listening to all my instructions, and then having to shout back up at me when he could not remember what to fetch."

The lad grinned. "That's sounds like my brother Tip--he's always in a powerful hurry to do everything!" He started towards the larder, and then stopped. "What are we having, Mr. Frodo?"

Frodo winked at him. "What else but mushroom soup?"

Till made a little squeaking noise. "Mushroom soup!" He bounced about a little, and then stopped, looking abashed. "I'm sorry, Mr. Frodo. I didn't mean to forget my manners."

Frodo shook his head in amusement. The lad was shyer than Sam, and apparently quite well drilled in what was "proper". "That's all right, Till. I take it you like mushroom soup?"

He laughed at the vigorous nod that was the reply. "Well, when you get back up here, do you know how to clean mushrooms?"

"Very gently, mam says." Till headed into the larder and soon returned the tin bowl filled with all the things Frodo had requested.

Taking a small damp cloth, Frodo handed it to Till, along with the mushrooms he'd set aside for the soup, and the lad began to carefully wipe off the bits of compost.

While Till had been in the larder, Frodo had put a small cast iron spider* onto the hearth to heat. Now he peeled and chopped the onion, and then put a knob of butter into the spider to melt. He threw in the onion, and while it cooked he took the mushrooms Till had cleaned and gave them a rough chop and tossed them in with the butter as well.

He allowed Till to mince the herbs, once he was sure the child knew how to use a knife. He poured the broth and herbs in with the onion and mushrooms and allowed it all to simmer for a while. As it cooked he sliced a couple of pieces of dark bread and he and Till used the toasting forks to toast it.

Once the soup was cooked, Frodo forced it through a sieve into a small pot, which he put back before the fire, and stirred in the sour cream. Finally, he put each piece of the toast into a bowl and ladled the soup in.

The two sat down at the kitchen table with the soup and cups of tea, as Frodo gently questioned the lad. He'd known Daddy Twofoot all his life, but the old hobbit's son and his family had only recently moved back to Hobbiton to stay with him. Till was not quite as talkative as even Sam, but Frodo learned quite a bit. In return, he told the lad a bit about Buckland and Yule in Brandy Hall.

They finished the meal, and Till helped Frodo with the washing up. Frodo loaded Till's now empty basket with the ham and the bags of nuts, and led him to the door. "Ah, one more thing," he said, "I almost forgot!"

He stuck his hand in his pocket and brought out a silver penny.

Till froze. Frodo waited for the child to take it from his hand, but Till wasn't moving.

"Till, aren't you going to take your penny?"

He was back to whispering and stammering. "M-Mr. Frodo? That penny's silver!"

"Yes, Till, I know. I'm all out of coppers." He reached down and took the lad's hand and put the silver penny there. "You give that to your mother; she can get it changed, and give you back a copper. And then she can take care of the rest of it, if you want to share it with your family."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." His eyes were round as saucers, and he touched his forehead. "And thank you for the soup and everything."

"You are welcome, lad. Off you go, now, and you have a Good Yule and a Happy New Year, you and your family!'

"Yes, sir!" He turned then and took two steps, and then turned back "Sam said you were splendid, sir, and well, I-I reckon he's right" he blushed furiously, and trotted off as quickly as he could with his laden basket.

Frodo watched him as he passed through the gate and down the lane. The youngster really had been useful, and good company as well. Now he could spend the rest of the day and tomorrow giving out his gifts, and be ready to leave at first light the day after. He was planning to hire a trap from The Ivy Bush stable. Soon he'd be in Buckland and seeing his kin once more.

He went back in, whistling "No Shorter Now Will Grow the Days". He really loved this time of year. And fresh mushrooms in Foreyule? Who would have thought it?

*A spider is what a cast iron skillet with feet is called. It can set easily on a hearth.

Frodo's Herbed Mushroom Soup


3 Tbsp. Butter 1 small onion chopped 1 lb. white mushrooms chopped 3 1/2 c. vegetable stock 3 Tbsp. finely minced herbs* 2/3 c. sour cream Salt and pepper to taste


1. Melt half the butter in a pan; sauté the onion until soft and translucent. Add the remaining butter and stir in the mushrooms until they brown nicely.

2. Stir in the stock and herbs, and bring to a boil, and simmer about 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender, or transfer to a processor or blender, and process until smooth. (Or use Frodo's method and force through a ricer or a sieve.)

3. Return soup to the pan, stir the sour cream and season to taste, reheating gently. Place a piece of crisp buttered toast (preferably a dark bread)** in the bottom of a warmed bowl, and ladle the soup over it. Serve immediately.


*I find the best way to mince herbs is to use kitchen shears to snip them coarsely into a small condiment dish, and then use the tips of the shears to mince them finely. With this dish, I'd probably use thyme, rosemary, maybe tarragon, and parsley. Or I might use only one herb.

**I like a dark rye, or a hearty multi-grain for this

Author name: Dreamflower
Recipient's name: burning_night
Title: How Yule Came to Gondor
Rating: G
Request: Something about Christmas or Yule celebrations in either the Shire, Gondor, or Rohan.
Author's notes: Menelcar is one of my OCs and has appeared in several of my stories, most notably “The Life of a Bard” and “Chance Encounter”. He traveled in the Shire several years prior to the Quest and met Pippin as a tween; his great-nephew Culas has made but one appearance as a child, in my story “Thain Peregrin's Very Large Birthday Gift”.
Aragorn and Arwen's and Faramir and Éowyn's non-canonical children mentioned in this story have made previous appearances in some of the stories of my “Eucatastrophe AU”. This particular story, however, is mostly canon-compliant and does not take place in that AU.
More notes at the end of the story.
Summary: When Sir Meriadoc Brandybuck and Sir Peregrin Took took their retirement in the King's City, they shook things up a bit.

How Yule Came to Gondor

The small armchair and footstool in which Sir Peregrin Took, former Thain of the Shire, sat, were dwarfed by the immense stone fireplace, as was the other armchair across from Pippin. While Pippin was wide awake, its occupant, his cousin Meriadoc Brandybuck, was gently snoring. An open book lay across Merry's chest, and the coverlet across his knees had half slipped off, leaving Merry's feet exposed.

Pippin supposed that at one hundred and two, his cousin could be excused for napping after a hearty luncheon, but it was most inconvenient when Pippin wished to talk. After all, it was nearly Yule, and there were plans to make.

What to do? Pippin ran a hand through his silvery-white curls, and then looked at his toes. Surprisingly, at ninety-eight, he still had a few strands of Tookish chestnut winding through the otherwise snowy-white foot-hair. But not a speck of it atop his head. He wondered, he was distracting himself from the question at hand.

The truth was, in Gondor the turning of the year was not until spring. And the Gondorian celebrations for the longest night were all too solemn to even be worthy of being called celebrations in his humble opinion.

Instead, Mettarë and Yestarë were considered days of solemn reflection: spend the first day in remembering everything one had done wrong in the past year and spend the second day making resolutions to do better in the following year. A noble undertaking to be sure, but scarcely what Pippin would think of as a holiday.

No, a real Yule called for greenery, and a roaring Yule log, and lots of singing and dancing and feasting and presents. The King and Queen confessed they missed the Northern customs for honouring the turning of the Year, when the darkness began to give way to ever-lengthening days. They celebrated Yule when they brought their court to Annúminas, but they had made no attempt to override the customs of Gondor in this matter. After all, they'd had their way with moving the New Year to Spring.

But now he and Merry were making their home here, and they wanted a real Yule. Time to make their feelings known. Pippin rarely took advantage of Aragorn's tendency to indulge his two old friends, but in this case he was willing to take advantage a-plenty.

Perhaps they could possibly combine the Gondorian and Shirish customs. Well, he'd reflected enough on what he wanted. Now he needed someone who could actually make plans. He reached out his leg and gave a light kick to one of Merry's feet.

Merry just barely stirred; Pippin kicked a bit harder.

"Oi! Pip, what is it?" said Merry crossly.

"Wake up, Merry, I want to talk to you. I need your clever mind."

"Ha! When did you ever not?" Merry stretched and sat forward, catching the book before it slid out of his lap.

"Come now, cousin! This is important!"

Merry slid his spectacles down from the top of his head down to his nose, and gazed at Pippin. "So, what is on your mind now?" he asked suspiciously. "I'm far too old for larder raids and scrumping. We both are."

Pippin grinned. "Yule."

"Ah! Yes, it will soon be upon us, won't it? But they don't really celebrate it here, do they?"

"Exactly, my dear Meriadoc."

Merry leaned back and steepled his fingers and pursed his lips. Pippin said nothing; his cousin was thinking right now and unlikely to fall back to sleep. But Pippin was in danger of that himself, when Merry spoke out.

"Culas! We'll pick his mind! He knows which Gondorian customs we can use and he knows our Shire customs as well."

Pippin nodded, his thoughts briefly sad as he thought of his old friend Menelcar, who had been Aragorn's Court Bard from the beginning of his reign. Good old Menelcar had passed on several years before, his place now taken by his great-nephew Culas, who had become a great minstrel in his own right. Culas would be the perfect person to help them plan a celebration.

"Do we want to consult the King and Queen, or make it a surprise?" Pippin asked.

Merry grinned. "We could consult the Queen and surprise good old Strider, don't you think?"

Pippin grinned back. "That sounds like a plan to me."

The next morning the two hobbits made their way to the quarters of the Court Bard. Culas seemed very happy to see them, and made them welcome with wine and cakes. The two were seated on a pair of cushioned footstools, and Culas sat down with them after pouring them goblets of Belfalas Red.

Pippin looked up at the minstrel. He was no longer the skinny twelve-year-old apprentice Pippin had met at his great-uncle's side in Annúminas. Indeed, he was now the same age as Menelcar had been when Pippin first met the wandering minstrel roaming through the Shire when he was only a tween himself. Culas bore a great resemblance to his uncle; his eyes had the same mischievous twinkle, and his ginger hair was beginning to sport some grey in the same places as Menelcar. He had laugh lines a-plenty. But he lacked the weathered look that Menelcar had gained through years of wandering Middle-earth. Culas had grown up in the Court of the High King and had never known the hardships of life on the road. Pippin missed his old friend, but Menelcar had gone to his rest many years ago...

Culas had waited until the hobbits had consumed at least one of the cakes before asking them, "To what do I owe the honour of this visit?"

"We need your help," said Merry. "We'd like to bring a bit of the Shire to Gondor with the holidays coming."

For a brief second, Culas looked confused, but then he grinned. "Ah! A Yule celebration! I have not been part of one since last the Court went to Annuminas; a good five years, I think. Here in Gondor the longest night is no longer the eve of a new year and in the City it is not really celebrated much anymore, though I have heard things are different in the Southern part of the Kingdom. They still make a lot of it in Dol Amroth though."

Pippin shrugged. "Even when it was celebrated here, it was not much of a celebration, from what Boromir told us. Fasting and thinking about all the wrong things you'd done in the past. Seemed sort of a gloomy way to pass the holiday, although he did say there was a feast on the second day."

"The people of Minas Tirith were solemn and serious in the days of the Stewards," said Culas. "I do know that my uncle always celebrated Mettarë and Yestarë in the old way, even after the King's return, though he also observed the one in Spring as well. He thought the return of the light was a good time to reflect on life and the new beginning of the year, while the celebration in Víressë was more to celebrate a New Age rather than just the year." He grinned. "But he was fond of all the wonderful songs and carols that the Shirefolk sang to celebrate Mid-winter and taught me many of them."

Merry and Pippin nodded. Pippin recalled the year that he and Merry and Sam had copied out as many Shire songs as they could think of to send to Menelcar in celebration of their friend's tenth anniversary as the Court Bard. Nearly half of them were seasonal songs.

"You know," Culas said, "here in the White City we have few songs to celebrate Mid-winter but there were some traditional verses that were spoken on Mettarë and on Yestarë. In my family, the lists of our transgressions were given to the fire before we retired for the night and as they burned Uncle Menelcar led us in reciting the Plea for Forgiveness. And on Mettarë, before the fast was broken, we recited a Pledge for the coming year." He sighed. "My own children and grandchildren no longer know this tradition, sadly."

Merry and Pippin looked at one another. "Family traditions should not be lost," sighed Merry.

Pippin nodded emphatically. "Most certainly not! I think it's a time to perhaps revive the traditions of Minas Anor as well as bringing in some of the Shire's celebrations as well."

"Do you wish me to approach the King about this?" asked Culas, knowing that Elessar would never deny his hobbit friends anything unless it was harmful to them.

"Actually," grinned Merry, "we thought we'd surprise good old Strider. We thought it might be fun to plan this little celebration with Her Grace the Queen."

Culas just nodded. He had lost his ability to be shocked at the hobbits' informality years ago. "I will make arrangements for us to see her sometime soon; today if it is possible. I will send word to you when I know when that will be. I assume you will be able to hold the secret yourselves?"

"Oh," said Pippin airily with a wave of his hand. "Merry and I are conspirators of old. Why if it had not been for our ability to keep a secret, Frodo and Sam would never have made it out of the Shire."

The talk turned to what sorts of traditions the hobbits wanted to observe. Was a Yule log necessary? What about gifts? Culas and Pippin talked for quite a while about which songs and dances should be a part of the celebrations.

It was scarcely an hour after leaving Culas, as the elderly hobbits were taking their luncheon in their quarters, that the invitation to tea with the Queen arrived.

Merry watched in amusement at the care Pippin was taking in his preparations: snowy curls on head and feet carefully brushed, and his cousin's best weskit and jacket shrugged on. Not that he had not taken equal care; but then that was his usual way. But Pippin seldom fussed with his appearance this much even when they attended Court with the King. This, however, was the Queen. Even through Pippin's very happy marriage to Diamond, he had never quite recovered from his shy and unspoken crush on Arwen Undómiel. He'd never really been able to hide it from his cousins, but they'd never teased him about it when he was a tween. He suspected that Arwen had known as well. Her smile for the youngest member of the Company had seemed to Merry to always be rather special.

Pippin fiddled with his cravat for the third time, so Merry went over and straightened it out for him. "Now you look just fine, cousin. Let's go before we are late."

"Hmph! We are only a few corridors away, after all," said Pippin.

"True," Merry agreed. "But we don't move as quickly as we once did. Wait--where are my spectacles?"

"On top of your head, silly." Pippin reached over and took them off Merry's head and settled them on his cousin's nose.

Merry took them off, gave them a rub with his pocket handkerchief put them back on, and the two went to the door of their quarters.

Arwen's lady in waiting, Lady Haleth, ushered the hobbit's into the Queen's parlour. Culas and his apprentice, a lanky sixteen-year-old by the name of Valan, were already there, as were the Queen's older daughter Elliniel, and her granddaughter Artanis

Tea was poured out, and cakes and biscuits were passed around, and there was at first much talk of family. The hobbits passed on the news from their latest letters from the Shire, and there was rejoicing at the word that Elliniel's husband Elemir would be bringing his parents back to the City when he returned. Faramir had passed many of his Stewardly duties over to his older son Elboron; the Prince and Princess seldom left Ithilien these days--Éowyn had broken a hip a few years back, and she no longer could ride as she once had.

Crown Prince Eldarion and his wife were still on a diplomatic mission to Dale, but their son Halbarad was on his way back to Gondor, and might arrive any day now.

After the food was consumed, however, the conversation was turned to the subject at hand: how best to create a celebration that would combine the traditions of the Shire with the old, nearly lost, traditions of Minas Anor. They had, after all, just under a month to prepare.

Valan was given parchment, ink and pen, and set to taking notes...


Aragorn wakened to the smell of crisp air and evergreens, and his wife's absence from the bed. He sat up, and heard the faint sound of song in the passageway. Not bothering to ring for his body servant, he threw on some clothes and went from the Royal Bedroom to the Royal Sitting room. There he saw Arwen serenely awaiting him by the hearth, as the morning staff went about their business. “We are about to have callers, my lord,” she said demurely, although her eyes twinkled with mischief.

“Before breakfast?” he said in astonishment.

She laughed. “You sound like a hobbit,” she replied.

The singing grew louder, and then there was a rapping on the door. Arwen gestured for one of the servants to open the door.

There stood a crowd of royal grandchildren, and the children of the various families who made their home in the Citadel, from nobles to servants. At the forefront of all the young ones were two old hobbits. All arms were filled with fragrant evergreens, pine and mistletoe, spruce and boxwood, laurel and cedar, and all were singing:

Cedar, spruce and fir and pine,
All of these will do just fine!
Hollyberries and mistletoe,
Wrapped with ribbons, decked with bows.
From doors and windows and ceiling beams,
We place the ever-living greens!

The greening of the hall!
The greening of the hall!
Come ye laddies and lassies all
For the greening of the hall!

Out in the frost or snow we trek
To find the finest boughs to deck
Each modest cot or finest smial!
The cold may nip till we can't feel
Noses and toeses, but we don't mind
So long as the greenery we can find!

The greening of the hall!
The greening of the hall!
Come ye laddies and lassies all
For the greening of the hall!

Soon the Royal Apartment was swarming with little ones, placing branches on the window sills, the shelves and the mantelpiece. Aragorn watched in bemusement for a moment, and then chuckled as he saw his young great-grandson, Artanis' six-year-old son Perhael trying to pull a chair over to drape some laurel upon a rather high shelf. In two long strides, his grandfather picked him up and held him where he could reach the shelf. He set the lad down with a kiss on top of his head and a light pat on his bottom, and turned to face the grins of his two oldest “guests”.

Merry and Pippin gazed up at him with their most innocent expressions. Pippin arched an eyebrow, and said “So, how did you like our surprise, Strider?”

He shook his head and laughed. “I suppose that you had a co-conspirator or two?” He cast a glance at the Queen, who was surrounded by children, and turned at his regard to wink at him. “Do you have anymore surprises in mind?”

Just then the city bells began to ring, and not to mark the hour.

“Culas said that used to be the pattern the bells rang, to mark the beginning of observing Mettarë,” said Merry.

Well, thought Aragorn, that answers that question. Not only my wife and grandchildren, but my Court Bard as well, He looked down at the two hobbits, who to his expert eye looked just a bit anxious.

“Strider,” said Pippin. “You aren't truly angry with us, are you?”

“You rascals. Of course I am not truly angry. But I have to say, it is seldom that anyone can surprise me. So, you have decided we should renew observing the old winter solstice celebrations—will that include a fast today?”

The hobbits looked rueful. “We came to a bit of a compromise on that. The Queen and Culas agreed that the fast will not be compulsory. Those who wish to fast may, and everyone else may have bread and water today.”

“Ah, a most practical compromise.”

Pippin pulled himself up as straight as he could. “My liege, in the spirit of the day, I would like to ask your forgiveness for keeping secrets from you. And also, I am sorry I can no longer carry out my duties as a Tower Guard.”

Aragorn was touched by the old hobbit's serious mien. “Sir Peregrin, sometimes secrets are a necessary part of a surprise. As for your duties, while you are no longer able to stand guard as you once did, you can do many of the duties that my older captains undertake, such as teaching the guardsmen. I am sure that the youngest cadets would be honoured to learn the history of the Ring War direct from the mouth of the Ernil i Pheriannath.” Pippin looked gratified at this suggestion.

“So how is the rest of the day to be marked, in this new-old tradition you have come up with?”

“Well,” replied Merry, “soon enough we shall take the children down to the feast hall of Merethrond, where they will help with the greening there. Then the rest of the day will be spent quietly making lists of what you regret in the past year—you recall Boromir telling us all about that on the Quest?”

“Indeed, I do. In fact, I also recall it from the years I spent here when I was much younger.”

“Oh yes!” exclaimed Pippin. “Back when you used to go by Thorongil!”

“Then,” Merry continued, “This evening, all will gather there. We will have songs and a Yule Log. That will be followed by more singing and maybe dancing. Then Culas will recite the verse for First Night; but everyone will use the Yule Log to burn their lists! ”

“Now, now!” called Arwen in her clear voice. “Lady Haleth will pass out parchment for everyone to write their lists on. Then you must follow Sir Meriadoc and Sir Peregrin down to Merethrond and put the greenery out there.”

The hobbits led their parade of children out into the corridor once more, and the singing broke out again.

Aragorn took a moment after the door closed to draw Arwen into his embrace. “This was well done, my love,” he said.

“Thank you, Estel, but most of the credit belongs to Merry and Pippin.”

The ringing of the bells had signified a day of celebration, and so there was no Court held that day. It meant that the King and Queen had the rare chance to enjoy a quiet morning in one another's company without many interruptions. Around noon, Prince Elemir arrived with his parents.

Faramir had much white in his dark hair, and Éowyn had more silver than gold. The once straight Shieldmaiden now leaned heavily upon a walking stick, and upon her son's arm, but her bearing was as proud as ever.

Faramir was pleased to learn of the plans to renew the old celebrations, although with new twists. Éowyn was very pleased to find that the solstice would be observered as well. They stayed awhile to catch up on family, and then left to rest from their journey before the evening's celebration.

Aragorn spent some time alone, composing his own list; as King he often had to do things he would rather have not, and there was solace in writing them down in order to put them behind them. But none of his public regrets weighed upon him as much as the time he did not have to spend upon his family. It was inevitable, but it did not mean he did not regret it.

The evening bells rang at sunset, and the King and Queen led their court into Merethrond. The large hall had been transformed with greenery and candles. A table at the side was laden with pitchers of water and platters of loaves of bread. The King and Arwen had chosen to observe the fast, but they were glad that there would be sustenance for others.

They led their Court into the Hall to the strains of a stately pavane, and then seated themselves in the large carven chairs set aside for them.

As soon as all were seated, the large double doors that led to the Courtyard of the White Tree were thrown open and Merry and Pippin and a number of children led in four stout servants carrying the large Yule Log.

Pippin's voice, still high and clear in spite of his age led them in singing:

Light the Yule log, blazing cheer,
Giving warmth this time of year.
Turning back all thoughts of fear,
As we hold close our loved ones dear!

The day is short; the night is long.
Against the dark we sing this song--
Let our hearts be filled with light
And may the world again grow bright...

The singers continued, their voices joined by Culas and his minstrels, and by those members of the Court who had heard it in Anuminnas. It was brought in and laid in the hearth. The hobbits had agreed that as Merry would definitely be the eldest person in attendance (save the Queen, who had laughingly declined the honour) he would light the log.

It was a well seasoned log, and kindling had already been laid. The Yule Log was carefully placed, and Merry lit it with a taper, provided by Culas, who had come to stand at his elbow. The kindling quickly caught, and as the log took a few moments to catch, the crowd was led in such Shire seasonal songs as “It is the Turning of the Days” and “The Buckland Carol”. By the time they had finished the latter song, the Yule Log had begun to burn.

At Culas' direction, those musicians with instruments began to play a lively and poplular circle dance. There were several more jolly dances before the Court Bard signaled for a much slower and solemn dance, and as the sets were paced, the candles were slowly extinguished, so that soon the great room was lit only by the light of the blazing log upon the hearth.

Culas stepped forward. “In the latter days of the Steward, this was recited upon the darkest night as a way to leave behind all the ill will or sorrow of the previous year. In homes across the White City, families spoke this:

For each grief I hath given thee, forgive.
For each sorrow I brought thee, forgive.
For each word I spoke in anger,
For each time I left thee in danger,
For treating a friend like a stranger,

For every lie I spoke to thee, forgive.
For every unkind word I thought of thee, forgive.
For every time I ignored thy lot,
For every time I saw thee not,
For every time that I forgot,

Let mine offenses with the old year pass,
That I shall be a true friend at last.

There was a brief silence. Some of the older members of the Court could recall this tradition of their youth, and some of them were brought to tears.

“Those who wish to do so, may now put last year's sorrows to the flames.”

A slow procession was led by the King and Queen, who each tossed a list into the fire. Each person did so quietly.

When all had done so, Culas spoke out loudly: “Today was a day of reflection! Tomorrow will be a day of rejoicing!”

The party broke up, and folks made their way back to their own places, some in silence, and some discussing this new (to them) celebration. Aragorn found himself listening to some of those conversations. He heard one little girl asking her grandmother: “Won't it be confusing to have two Yestares and two Metares?”

A very good question, thought Aragorn.


Once more the White City woke to the sound of holiday bells. Word of the big celebrations up at the Citadel had leaked out. Apparently the whole thing was started by the old Ernil i Pheriannath and his cousin Sir Merry Wraithsbane. On every corner musicians were playing new dances and minstrels were singing new songs. Open air taverns were selling food and drink, and children were playing in the streets.

Up in the Citadel, a great breakfast feast had been prepared. At each place lay a laurel wreath. The members of the Court milled about the feast hall, awaiting the appearance of the Royal Household. Soon they appeared: the King and Queen, the Steward Prince Faramir and Lady Éowyn, the Princess Elleniel and her husband Lord Elemir, the Steward's younger son, and the Steward's older son Prince Elboron and his wife Firiel of Lossarnach, and those of the grandchildren who were present in Minas Anor. The two elderly hobbits were also among the group who would sit at the High Table. Once the High Table was seated, the other courtiers and their families found their places. Each person at the High Table, including the Royal Couple, took up the laurel wreath at their places, and put it upon their heads.

Then Culas explained that this day was one of both rejoicing at the ending of darkness and the growing light, and also of renewal and a time to start anew with new habits and new determination.

“Here is the pledge for today:

With the old year, let old habits be past.
May I become my true self at last.
May this year find me more kind.
May I keep others in mind.
May I treasure my time with kin and friends,
Ere this New Year ends.

Now let the feast begin!”

The sounds of hungry people enjoying such things as frumenty, stuffed eggs, rashers of bacon, sausages, freshly baked breads, fruits and other treats after a long night and a fast the day before could be heard.

Culas found his place among the other minstrels and musicians (all of whom had broken their fast already with the servants of the kitchens) and joined them in playing his lute. They continued playing instruments until it was clear that the meal was winding down. He looked up at Pippin, who was leaning back in his seat playing with a bit of cheese, and made a small gesture. He smiled back at Culas, whispered a word in Merry's ear, and stepped down to join his friend.

The two of them began to sing together a song often sung on Second Yule throughout the Shire:

The longest night has passed;
The New Year has begun at last.
Spring will follow winter's blast,
Warmer days are coming fast.

Day by day the world grows lighter,
Day by day the Sun grows brighter.

Darkness now has lost its power.
Daylight lengthens hour by hour;
Frost will give way to fruit and flower,
Snow will give way to Astron's shower.

Day by day the world grows lighter,
Day by day the Sun grows brighter.

We'll celebrate this bright New Year,
Sing and dance with merry cheer,
Gifts and feasts and lots of beer!
We'll leave behind old sorrow and fear!

Day by day the world grows lighter,
Day by day the Sun grows brighter.

Day by day the world grows lighter,
Day by day the Sun grows brighter.

After the breakfast had ended, everyone was dismissed, but the King and Queen decided to process down through the City and join in with the celebrations of the common people. Faramir and Éowyn stayed in the Citadel, and after some consideration (for truly, they'd have enjoyed it immensely) so did Merry and Pippin. Instead they kept company the Steward and his Lady, enjoying many memories of their friendship over the years.

That night, there was another feast, and more music and dancing in the Citadel. Pippin played his fiddle for the first time since they had left the Shire, and sang with Culas several more times, as they taught the songs to those who had come.

...How grand it feels to click your heels,
And dance away to the jigs and reels.
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands
With all of the folks at home.

The holly green, the ivy green,
The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen
from Westmarch to the Outlands,
no matter where you roam
It’s Yuletide in the Shire-lands
With all of the folks at home...

Pippin was beginning to run out of breath. It had been years since he had sung for so long. He didn't even look when a goblet was put into his hand and he took a sip of Belfalas White. Then he said, “Thanks, Merry! I needed that.”

“I have to say,” said a familiar voice that was not Merry's, “I have not had so pleasant a surprise in a long time, my friend.”

He looked up at Aragorn, and smiled a smile that reminded the King of the young tween he had grown so fond of during the Quest.

“I would say,” he added, “that I might proclaim this an annual event, save for one thing.”

Pippin looked dismayed. “What's that, sire?” slipping into formality in his surprise.

“It might be confusing to have two New Year's celebrations so close together.”

Pippin's eyes grew round and wide. “Oh. I hadn't thought of that!”

Then he felt Merry's familiar hand upon his shoulder. His cousin was looking up at the King with a most impudent smile. “There's a simple solution, Strider! Just call the winter celebration 'Yule'”. That's what it is, after all.”

Aragorn laughed long and loud, drawing the attention of all who had not left yet. Finally he said, “A most elegant solution, Meriadoc Brandybuck!”


Author's End Notes: It's my tradition to write new “carols” for the Shire every year. “Day by Day” is my new contribution for this year. The other songs or portions of songs were written by me in previous years.

In addition, I also wrote the two Gondorian verses. Both the “Plea for Mettarë” and the “Yestarë Pledge” were made up specifically for this story, and are very loosely based on some of the liturgy of my church.

A New Year's Game of the Shire
This is a game played on the first day of the New Year, which by the Shire Reckoning is called Second Yule. It's a popular feature at most New Year celebrations, and often even the adults will join in before the song ends.

The game is started by some of the children beginning to sing:

Now the year is spent,
We don't know where it went!
(A few children begin the game, holding hands and skipping forward in time to the song.)

Don't look for it behind;
A new one we must find!
Take my hand and help us look!

(At this they break apart and grab other children into the line, and then begin to skip once more. This is repeated after each chorus, so that the line gets longer and longer. The children may weave throughout the hole, and even go outdoors.)

It won't be in the larder,
It won't be under the bed.
Look for it a little harder--
No, it's not in the shed.

Don't look for it behind;
A new one we must find!
Take my hand and help us look!

(Repeat the actions of the chorus)

It isn't in the garden,
It's not up in a tree.
Oh, I beg your pardon,
Is it anywhere you can see?

Don't look for it behind;
A new one we must find!
Take my hand and help us look!

(Repeat the actions of the chorus)

Perhaps it's in tomorrow!
Is that what you say?
But the future we can't borrow;
Could it be here today?

Why, it's right here today!
Why, it's right here today!
We found it! We found it! Yay! Yay! Yay!

(The children drop hands and jump up and down at each "Yay!", and then fall to the ground at the end.)

This particular game is not played on any other day of the year, but may be played several times on that day.

Author name: Dreamflower  
Recipient's name: Larner 
Title: The Search for the Perfect Gift
Rating: G
Request: "I'd love to see Frodo asking for advice regarding the best Yule present to give someone he loves, and receiving absolutely the worst suggestions possible." (I hope this fills your request, even though some of the suggestions aren't awful. Just not right.)
Author's notes: This story is a drabble set of nineteen 100 word drabbles, not including the titles, sub-titles or drabble numbers. Frodo is 21, just entering adolescence for hobbits, while Sam and Folco are nine, about the maturity of a human 6-year-old, but with three years of extra experience.
Summary: Frodo worries about the perfect Yule gift for Uncle Bilbo, now that he's been adopted by him.

The Search for the Perfect Gift

The Search

For the first time ever in his young life, Frodo Baggins was stumped about giving a gift. He wanted his gift for Uncle Bilbo to be absolutely perfect this year. Of course, he knew that Bilbo would love anything Frodo gave him, simply because it came from him, but this year was special. This year, Uncle Bilbo had adopted him, made him his heir, and given him a brand new life in Bag End. He wanted to show his beloved cousin just how much that all had meant to him. So whatever it was had to be absolutely perfect.

He hoped his quest could be filled before he and Bilbo left for Buckland. But every idea he'd thought of was something he'd done before. In the past, he had painted pictures, he'd written poems, he'd purchased Bilbo journals and penknives and stationary of all sorts. What could he do that was new? He had more pocket money to spend than ever before, since he was getting a generous allowance from Bilbo and the stipend he was now being allowed from his parent's inheritance. But it was so hard to think of something worthy of being the perfect gift this year.

Frodo needed some advice, and since to ask Bilbo himself would spoil the surprise, he would have to ask other people who knew his cousin well. Aunt Dora! She had known Bilbo for a very long time, since she and her family had moved into Greenbriars back when she was a very young child and she was Bilbo's first cousin, twice removed. And she was Frodo's own aunt, after all. He threw on his jacket, and popped his head into the study. "I'm going down the Hill to visit Aunt Dora, Uncle Bilbo!"

"That's nice, Frodo. Give her my greetings."

Aunt Dora

"Why, Frodo! What a pleasant surprise!" Aunt Dora opened the door."Come in!" She gave him a brief embrace, and a kiss on the cheek. "It's nice to see you!"

"I need advice, Aunt Dora. I want to find the perfect Yule gift for Uncle Bilbo!"

"How thoughtful! Let me think while we have tea!"

She led him into the parlour, and he found himself plied with tea and cakes, and listened to her talk.

Finally, she snapped her fingers! "Cousin Bilbo loves books!" She went to her bookshelf fetching him an old leatherbound volume. "This book is by Great-great-grandmother Berylla..."

The two of them finished their visit. Frodo left thinking he should visit Aunt Dora more often on his own, rather than just once a week with Bilbo. He was sure Uncle Bilbo would cherish a book written by his Great-great-grandmother. But was it really the perfect gift? He flipped it open, to see what she had written.

Oh dear! This book was full of old-fashioned advice. He opened it at random, "Do not let a sick person read, as it is too great a tax on the sight and brain..."* Bilbo would find this funny, but it wasn't perfect!

Number 3 Bagshot Row
Who else could he ask? Not Uncle Dudo. All he wanted to speak of were his own ailments and illnesses. As Frodo trod up the Hill, he passed Number 3. The Gaffer and Mistress Bell might have ideas!

The Gaffer was harvesting turnips but stopped at Frodo's query. "Well now, Master Frodo, Mr. Bilbo is right fond o' his garden. Mayhap you could order him seed for some o' them fancy herbs and flowers he favors. He's right fond o' tomatoes, you know. Or some o' them bright-colored hollyhocks. If you order 'em now, you'd surely have 'em by Yule!"

Frodo gave a nod, and went over where Bell was hanging laundry. "Mistress Bell, do you have any idea of what would be a perfect gift for Uncle Bilbo this Yule?"

She gave him a motherly smile. "Why, Master Frodo! He always thinks your gifts are perfect! Whatever you give 'im will be just right!" Frodo sighed. It was nice to hear, but it wasn't really useful. She saw his disappointment. "I know. You come down here and help me bake some o' them sweet biscuits shaped like mushrooms!"

Frodo shook his head. "Those are your special gifts, Mistress Bell."

He found Sam laying mulch on the herbs by the smial's front door. "Well, Mr. Frodo, I learnt how to force bulbs. I could do up some daffodils or some crocus for you!"

"Why don't you do that anyway, Sam! He'd love it if you gave that to him."

Sam blushed. "Would he really. Mr. Frodo? But you and Mr. Bilbo go to Buckland at Yule!"

"That's true! But I could tag it with your name, and then when it's Yule, I can give them to him and say that they are from you."

The child grinned. "Thanks, Mr. Frodo!"

Journey to Buckland
Frodo ended up talking to several people in Hobbiton and Bywater in his quest for the perfect gift, but all he learned from them was what they thought of as the perfect gift. Most of these ideas were not dreadful, but while Bilbo might like them, they would not be just right for him. Bilbo's gift needed to be special and perfect. Still, their ideas were kind, so Frodo offered to give Bilbo those things from each person who suggested it. The days flew by, and nothing Frodo thought of was good enough to be his perfect gift to Bilbo.

The day finally came to head off to Buckland, and still Frodo didn't have the gift. He did, however, have many gifts from all those who he had talked to, sealed up in a large wooden crate.

"What do you have there, lad?" Bilbo asked as they loaded their things into the trap that Bilbo had hired for their journey.

"Never you mind, Uncle, it's Yule!"

Off they drove. They would make good time, stopping for the night in the Yale, at the home of the Boffin cousins and their lad Folco, who was about the same age as Sam.

Cousin Daisy and her husband greeted their guests enthusiastically, and hauled Bilbo off so they could hear all the latest gossip from Hobbiton. Bilbo also had greetings from her father Dudo, who lived in Hobbiton with Aunt Dora.

Folco was glad to see Frodo. He was a cheerful, generous lad, but had the habit of blurting out the truth, when it would've been better to stay silent.

"Do you want to watch me wrap presents?" he asked Frodo.

Nodding, Frodo followed him to his room. There were several packets bundled in paper and tied up with twine on his bed.

"There's one for you and for Cousin Bilbo," he said. They were labeled rather messily. "I gave him pocket handkerchiefs because he didn't have any on his Adventure...oops! I shouldn't have said that."

Frodo noticed Folco wrapping a small penny-whistle. "Isn't that your favorite toy?"

Folco nodded. "It's for Merry."

"Don't you like it anymore?"

"I do like it. I wouldn't give it away if I didn't."

"Why do you say that, Folco?" Frodo was puzzled. Much as he loved Merry, he couldn't imagine him giving away his favorite toy.

"Because that's how you know they'll like it, of course."

Yule in Brandy Hall
They arrived at Buckland in the midst of a flurry of snow. Merry was waiting for them on top of the fence near the lane. He jumped down and pelted into the road, scarcely waiting for the trap to stop before he scrambled up to hug Frodo fiercely. "I missed you, Frodo," he said into his cousin's waistcoat.

"I missed you, too, Sprout." He ruffled the sandy curls and drew Merry up into a warm embrace.

Merry glanced over at Bilbo. "Hullo, Cousin Bilbo. Thank you for bringing Frodo to me."

Bilbo laughed and turned the trap towards Brandy Hall.

After the greetings from his numerous kin who resided in Brandy Hall, went to his old room in Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda's quarters. It was now a guest room. While the furniture was the same, the bedding and pillows were new, for he had taken his away to Bag End. Some of his possessions were still there, stored in the old wardrobe. He pulled out a box, placing it on the floor as he looked through it. These were mostly early childhood things that he couldn't bear to part with, and they would return to Bag End with him.

He searched through it and found a folder. This was just the perfect thing. It would be the perfect gift, with just a little help from one of his cousins. His heart gave a clench. It would be a wrench to give it up, but Folco's advice had been the best of all, even if the child hadn't known he was giving any. He took the folder, and when the coast was clear, he headed to the upper levels of Brandy Hall and tapped on a door.

His cousin grinned when she saw him. "Frodo! How delightful!"

"Hullo, Cousin Calla..."

Bilbo looked astonished at the box Frodo had brought out for him. "Bless my buttons, lad!" Looking in at the many packages and parcels, he was quite flummoxed. "Surely you didn't get all that for me?"

"No. These are from some of your friends and kin who wished you to have these gifts here on Yule." He pulled out one wrapped package. "This one was the first, from Aunt Dora."

Bilbo felt it. Surely it was a book, and not one of his elderly cousin's bits of needlework, as was her usual wont. He opened it, and laughed. "Oh my!"

There was a tin with several of Bell Gamgee's mushroom-shaped sugar biscuits, and another with one of Lily Cotton's superb fruit cakes; there was a bowl filled with soil, and the tips of crocus bulbs peeking out from young Samwise; a package was filled with handkerchiefs from little Folco Boffin; the Hobbiton stationer had given him a new journal; the healer Mistress Salvia had given him some sachets of herbs to help when he could not sleep; from the seamstress who did his mending was a new linen pillowslip. He came to the bottom. "Where is one from you, Frodo?"

Frodo had something behind his back, wrapped in muslin, tied with ribbon, rectangular and flat. Bilbo smiled; he was always pleased with a piece of Frodo's artwork. He untied the ribbon and let the fabric fall away. "Frodo!" He was shocked. This was one of Frodo's prized possessions, one they had planned to take home. In one half of the frame was a Calla Brandybuck watercolor: Drogo and Primula, with Frodo between them--he appeared just out of faunthood. On the other side was a more amateurish version of the same painting, one of Frodo's efforts when he was about fourteen.

Bilbo was touched beyond belief, but surely Frodo didn't mean to give this to him. It was the only picture of his parents and him, so far as Bilbo knew. "Frodo, you can't mean me to have this! It's one of your most cherished things."

Frodo looked at him seriously. "Oh yes I do. A very wise person showed me that the things you like the most are the best things you can give to people you love, because if you love it, they will, too."

"Well, that does sound like someone wise. It's absolutely perfect."

Frodo's face lit up.  

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