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Beneath Strange Stars  by Larner

Written for the A_L_E_C Wine and Mistletoe Challenge.  Beta by RiverOtter.

Yule in Time of War

            Bucca of the Marish stood amidst his fellows in the King’s camp, looking across the trampled battlefield of the preceding day toward the tents of Angmar’s troops.  One of his fellows stood at his side.  “Doesn’t seem right,” the other Hobbit muttered, “that we should be here when Yule’s coming in.  Should be home in the Shire with our families, watching for whoever comes First Footing, and lighting the Yule bonfires.”

            Bucca could hear murmurs of agreement from the other Hobbits.  Suddenly he smiled.  “So, it’s a Yule bonfire as you’re wanting?” he asked, cocking his head to fix a bright eye on his fellows.  “What do you say we brighten up the turning of the year for the folks over that-a-ways?”

            The Hobbits exchanged glances, and he began to see grim smiles break out.  “That we can do,” one of the Tooks assured him.

            A Burrows from the Northfarthing fetched one of the dark lanterns and saw it lit, while three of the archers tied rags to their arrowheads and dipped them in tow.  One of their number who’d done some scouting earlier indicated where the supply wagons for the enemy were set, and four Hobbits crept out in that direction, intent on seeing to it that the army from Angmar was kept lively as Yule set in.  Bucca himself snatched a jug of the raw spirits that was being shared amongst the defenders of Arnor to somewhat brighten the evening’s watches before he went upon all fours after the others, a long knife at his belt.

            None of the Witch-king’s guards saw the small shapes that crept close to their lines, much less the one that slipped past them to the place where the horses were picketed, for the grooms and carters had settled to play a game of knucklebones and were paying no attention.  The horses were easily led aside from the wagons, following the gentle whistle of the one who’d freed them.  A single soldier approached the area, and found himself face to face with a small figure armed with a shining blade.  Before he could fumble his own weapon free, he’d been impaled by the Hobbit and slipped soundlessly to the ground, grasping helplessly at the hole in his chest.

            Bucca gave him a look and murmured, “It’s said by my kin amongst the Tooks as him as comes First Footing ought to bring with him drink to lift the spirits, and mayhaps aught to brighten the fire on the hearth.  I think as you’ll find I’ve done both.”  And after dousing one of the wagons with the liquor, Bucca slipped away again, back toward his companions.

            With the dark lantern shielded from the enemy by a stubborn evergreen shrub, the three archers strung their bows.  The fourth briefly opened the shutter, allowing them to dip their points into the flame, then closed it again as the bowmen rose to their feet and loosed arrows at the supply wagons.  At the same time cries on the other side of the camp had drawn all attention away as some of Aranarth’s Men crept close enough to send a barrage of stones into the tents, felling a number of soldiers and toppling a couple of pavilions before disappearing back into the night.  By the time it was noticed that three of the wagons of supplies were alight, the five Hobbits were already halfway back to their own camp.

            Once they were back they could tell easily which wagon had been covered by the spirits as it blazed a bright blue as opposed to the yellow and orange flames of the other wagons.  The one carrying the lantern blew it out before passing out sprays of evergreen branches to his companions.  “We must decorate somehow,” he said, a conspiratorial smile on his face.  “After all, it’s Yule!”

            The others laughed, and hearts lifted as the longest night of the year was lit by the brightest of bonfires they could imagine.

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