This is a teensy, one-chapter sequel to "Estel's Birthday", posted as a holiday offering. I hope you enjoy it, and Happy Hobbitdays, everyone!

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.

COMFORT AND JOY

Hobbiton was even more beautiful than usual, this evening. Candles and lamps glowed softly in small windows, illuminating the rare, deep snow that lay like a white blanket over the village. Aragorn smiled to see trees festooned with strings of dried berries, and paper cones containing seeds -- a treat for the birds, who would surely enjoy them. The Ranger tethered Arthad to the large tree below The Hill, and began to walk up the lane towards Bag End. He didn't know whether or not Frodo and Bilbo were home, or visiting relatives this close to Yule, but if they were away, he would leave his gift at the door -- or with Sam's family -- for them to find when they returned.

As Aragorn came in sight of Bag End, he grinned at the scene before him. Bilbo stood outside the door, dressed warmly in jacket and cloak, keeping an eye on two quickly-moving objects. Near him was a tiny hobbit lad, dressed in so many layers he seemed more round than tall, frolicking in the snow with what appeared to be a brown stick protruding from the white drifts and moving quickly back and forth. Pippin, Aragorn thought fondly. It has been many months; I wonder if the lad will remember me? And what is that... The Ranger laughed out loud as he realized that the 'stick' was a wagging tail. Scamp went perfectly still, then started bounding in his direction, her face covered in snow.

"Estel!" Bilbo cried, spotting him. He hurried forward, and Aragorn crouched to give the old hobbit a hug. "How delightful!"

"Estel!" came a gleeful voice. Aragorn suddenly found himself nearly knocked over by Pippin and a jumping, excited Scamp.

"So you remember me, Pippin?" Aragorn grinned. He patted Scamp, then stood up with Pippin in his arms, the lad's bright green eyes sparkling and his cheeks rosy from the cold air.

"'Course," Pippin declared. "Look, I'm all fuwwy!" He held up his small hands, which were encased in warm mittens lined with fur.

"So you are," Aragorn smiled. "Bilbo, is everything well?" He looked around. "Is Frodo inside?"

"Yes," Bilbo sighed. "He's had a cold and still has a slight fever. I won't allow him outside yet. Pippin was already here when Frodo grew ill, or else I would never have allowed him to visit. His parents come for him tomorrow." He smiled up at the tot bouncing in Aragorn's arms. "This lad hasn't caught even a sniffle -- he's of strong stock, that's for certain. Stop that, Scamp." Bilbo bent to pick up the tiny dog, who had burrowed into the snow at Aragorn's feet in an effort to reach and chew on the Ranger's enticing bootlaces.

"I brought something from Gandalf, for both you and Frodo," Aragorn said, following Bilbo into Bag End. "I understand that Yule is a time of gift giving."

"Indeed it is," Bilbo smiled. Aragorn put Pippin down in the parlor, removed his cloak, and hung it from the highest peg. "All we can offer you, in exchange, is a good meal and a warm fire. I hope that will suffice?"

"I would welcome both," Aragorn said with a delighted smile. He sniffed the air. "Is that roast beef?"

"Woast beef!" Pippin giggled. Bilbo dried Scamp's wet paws, then began to peel off Pippin's layers of warm outer coverings.

"Frodo will be so happy to see you," Bilbo said. "Go on, Estel. You know where his room is. I'll start a fire in your room to warm it up." He eyed the Ranger sternly. "You are staying the night, aren't you?"

"I would be honored," Aragorn said. "I will check on Arthad a bit later on." Being careful not to bump his head on the low ceiling, he made his way down the long corridor until he reached Frodo's room. Pausing before the partly-closed door, he peeked in. Frodo lay in bed, under several thick blankets, his face flushed and hair tousled. He was propped up against several pillows, reading by lamplight, and a cozy fire burned merrily in the hearth. There were stuffed animals and toys strewn all over the floor, which told Aragorn that Frodo's room was where Pippin had no doubt been spending most of his visit.

"Do you wish to finish your chapter before I disturb you?" Aragorn asked.

Frodo looked up. "Estel!" he gasped in joy. "I was hoping you'd visit soon!"

Ranger smiled broadly as he entered the room. He sat carefully on the small bed and pulled Frodo into a warm hug. "How are you feeling?" He felt the lad's forehead, and nodded to himself. Bilbo had been correct; there was fever, but not too high -- although the boy's voice was a bit hoarse.

"Nearly well," Frodo declared. "If Bilbo won't let me outside tomorrow, I'm going to climb out the window."

"I heard that," Bilbo said dryly, entering the room. Pippin ran in and leaped on Frodo's bed, followed by Scamp. The pup gave Frodo's face a lick before disappearing under the warm blankets. Pippin curled up next to Frodo, his head on Frodo's chest and his older cousin's arms around him.

"I have something for you," Aragorn said, pulling a bulky packet from one of his pockets. "Would you like to see it now, or later? It's a special gift from Gandalf."

"Now please," Frodo begged. "What is it?"

"You'll see," Aragorn smiled. "Would you put out the lamp, Bilbo? It will be better in the dark, I think."

Frodo and Pippin watched curiously as Bilbo snuffed out the lamp. Now the only light in the room came from the glowing hearth.

"Watch," Aragorn said softly. He pulled three small, dark cylinders from the packet. "There are several dozen in here," he said. "Enough for many, many evenings, and for you to share with Sam."

"Several dozen of what?" Frodo asked curiously.

"Of these," Aragorn said. He suddenly threw the cylinders into the fire.

"Oh!" Pippin cried, sitting up. "Look, look!"

"Estel, that's beautiful!" Bilbo said. Frodo just stared, awestruck, as each cone caught fire, and burst forth with a different color. Blue, green, and pink flames now joined the orange ones, and the hobbits watched, entranced, as the cylinders burned brighter and clearer. The room was ablaze with colored lights.

Aragorn looked around at the smiling faces, happy to have brought such enjoyment to his friends. "Gandalf prepared these for you and Bilbo," he told Frodo. "They will burn for many hours, and the colors will stay bright until the wrappings have completely melted."

"I love them," Frodo murmured, his luminous eyes showing his joy. "Thank you so much." A small rumbling from his stomach broke the mood, and everyone laughed.

"Dinner is ready, fortunately," Bilbo chuckled.

Pippin slid off the bed and ran to Bilbo, taking his hand. "Woast beef!"

"May I do the honors?" Aragorn asked with a smile. He wrapped Frodo in one of the blankets, then lifted the boy into his arms. "Happy Yule, little one," he whispered as he carried his small friend into the dining room.

"Happy Yule," Frodo whispered back, warm, snug, and happy. And hungry.

-- END --