Director's Notes: This fic is the result of the seasonal collaboration of some wonderful authors. Each was asked to write a Yuletide memory for the Fellowship to tell, and here is the result. I've deeply enjoyed putting this together, for these fics are a true delight to read. I hope you all enjoy this as much as I have.
Happy Yule, and all blessings on your New Year.
Chapter One: First tale by Febobe: Second tale by Lindelea: Introduction and linking passages by Gayalondiel.
Merry's anxious shout shattered the chill silence as his younger cousin disappeared down a bank. In a flurry of movement the other hobbits hastened after him, scrambling on hands and feet over the damp earth that had crumbled away under his feet. Within instants Merry was by his side, gripping his hand, while Frodo ran his fingers across his brow, calling his name. Pippin blinked two or three times before opening his eyes, only to scrunch them up again in discomfort.
"Pippin?" Frodo frowned anxiously. "Pip, are you alright? What hurts?"
"My head," replied Pippin softly. "My head hurts, and my leg…" He broke off, hissing slightly as Aragorn joined them and ran his hands expertly around his ankle.
"Can you move your foot?" he asked, resting his hands lightly on the joint as Pippin obliged. After a few moments, he nodded in relief. "Nothing is broken," he announced. "Just bruised, I think: you may be in pain for a few days, Pippin, but if we bind your leg properly you should have no trouble walking on it. How is the head?"
"Sore," replied Pippin weakly. Aragorn ran his hands through the young hobbit's curls, frowning again when he detected the large lump on the side of his head. Concerned, he performed the classic test for concussion, but Pippin's prompt answer with the correct number of fingers held up allayed his fears. Satisfied, he looked up to Gandalf, who stood anxiously nearby.
"We can go no further today," he replied. "Pippin is not seriously injured, but I must treat him before he can go further, and soon the light will fail us. I suggest we make camp now, and with luck we will have an early start tomorrow." Ignoring the hobbits' collective expression at the idea of getting up before the sun, he gathered Pippin into his arms and rose in search of a suitable campsite.
Although they were only five days from Rivendell, setting up camp had already become a swift and efficient task. Gimli set to the building of a small fire, and the hobbits alternated between gathering wood for him and helping Sam to prepare for the evening meal, while Legolas and Boromir ensured that the site was secure. Aragorn and Gandalf soon fell into the habit of using this time to discuss their path in hushed voices. Today, though, Aragorn was engaged in caring for Pippin, and the preparation of food was decidedly slower as the other hobbits were continually distracted by concern for their kinsman. Eventually, though, the meal was prepared and the Fellowship ate together, sitting close to the fire for warmth.
The meal was a quiet affair, punctuated only by occasional comments from Pippin, who had once again discovered that being injured was a fine way to coax his cousins into small favours and kindnesses – and extra food - that would normally have gone unanswered. Soon enough, though, the meal was over and a surprisingly sated Company sat back as comfortably as they could. The hobbits sat close, each striking up a light for their small pipes. Aragorn too was smoking, sitting close by Pippin, and Gimli and Gandalf were also wreathed in smoke. Boromir sat further away, still bemused by this odd pastime from the North, and Legolas sat perched on low branch nearby, giving him the dual advantages of a good line of sight and clear air.
"You know," said Merry, leaning back and blowing a thin plume of smoke into the air, "it's not surprising that Pip hurt himself today."
"Thanks, Merry." Pippin threw him a hurt look, followed by a leather-bound bundle of tobacco, which hit him neatly in the stomach. Merry huffed in surprise, and Frodo grinned.
"I know what he means," he said. "Pip, don't you know what day it is?"
"No," said Pippin, a familiar pout shaping his lips. Sam, on the other hand, frowned as he counted the days in his head.
"Why, it's First Yule!" he exclaimed suddenly.
"Exactly," grinned Merry around another puff of smoke. "That makes it inevitable."
"Oh, very well," Pippin's pout deepened. "I suppose so, if you put it like that."
Aragorn exchanged a glance with the other members of the Company, all of whom seemed equally confused. "I don't follow," he said. "How does Yule make Pippin being hurt alright?"
"It's not alright, exactly," replied Frodo. "But something always happens around Yule; someone always gets hurt, or in trouble." He glanced meaningfully at Merry. "It's kind of a family tradition."
Boromir stared at him, equally confused. "We celebrate Yuletide in Gondor," he said, "but our traditions are of kindness and celebration, not of harm."
Merry chuckled. "Neither are ours," he said, "but somehow things just seem to happen around Yule."
"Like what?" asked Gimli. Beside him, Gandalf smiled knowingly to himself. Their companions could not know it yet, but they had just opened themselves to a night of hobbit family history, for hobbits could tell tales long after any other race had tired of them. And these four hobbits in particular had plenty of tales for the telling. He refilled his pipe and settled back to listen as Merry, a bright grin on his face, straightened up and began what was likely the first of many stories.
It was a year when snow had come, and plenty of it, for a change - up nearly to Frodo's knee's, tall as he was. Already at the edge of his tweens, he had gone to live at Bag End but a year before, and Bilbo had brought him back to Brandy Hall so that they might pass the holidays with his cousins.
As usual, Yule brought with it feasting - feasting until everyone was fit to pop. There were apple fritters, marmalade loaf, chamomile wine, mulled cider, chestnut soup, mincemeat parcels, spiced ale, shortbread, roast goose with sage and onion stuffing, mushrooms in cream, baked apples, baked onions, braised spinach, sweet peas with mint, salmon and raisin pie, stoved taters, faerie-cakes, eggnog, treacle bread, Yule cake, white wine, plum pudding, and all sorts of mints. . .and that just to name a few of the more traditional offerings, mind you, for hobbits could not possibly have a Yule feast without enough food to make the tables positively groan! Afterward, of course, the adults retired for naps upon couches and in arm-chairs. . .but two tweenagers in particular did not.
"I'm so stuffed I can't hold bite or sup more."
"Not even a sip of the Gaffer's best homebrew?"
Merry's eyes widened. "Frodo, you can't be serious!"
"Can't I?" Blue eyes sparkled mischievously. "Bilbo brought it up as a special treat. It's already been opened; no one will notice if we have just a bit. Grab a mug and come on!"
They hurried down to the cellar, moving as quietly as possible, lest anyone wake and catch them, mugs in hand, moving steathily until at last they reached the finely made keg. Frodo patted it proudly, nodding for Merry to put his mug beneath the tap, and filled his cousin's mug first, then his own.
And they drank. . .and fine homebrew it was, too, but some of their first, leaving both young hobbits blinking and sputtering, Frodo laughing and Merry choking, the two of them trying not to be heard, glad that Frodo had closed the door behind them.
A second mugful went down easier.
A third easier still.
It was then that Merry spotted the old barrel.
Perhaps if it had been after only one mug things might have been different.
But the tweenagers had had three each by then, and were stifling fits of wild laughter.
"Fro! Bet - bet you can't do what I saw this fellow do at the fair down in Bucklebury end of summer!"
"Oh, can't I?" At once Frodo pulled himself up to his full height, arching an eyebrow. "Careful who you're sassing, lad - you're s'posed to mind your elders!"
The two broke into fits of laughter.
"No! No, really!" Eagerly Merry indicated the barrel. "Balancing on it." At once he climbed on, forced to constantly move his feet as the barrel rolled this way and that, skittering about with him, finally depositing him in a most unceremonious heap.
Frodo snorted. "You're daft."
"You're chicken. See if you can stay on any longer."
"You're on!" At once Frodo steadied the barrel, clambering up and straightening cautiously. He stood still for a moment before the barrel swayed, forcing him to move, balancing with his feet as Merry did. Merry laughed, applauding. . .already his older cousin had managed longer on the barrel than he had.
But in that final moment. . .as Frodo turned to grin. . .the barrel careened into the wall, hurling Frodo to the floor so that his head struck an empty wine-rack, and his limbs fell limply as he crumpled.
The vibrations were enough to get the attention of sleeping adults upstairs even had Merry not cried out: within minutes the cellar was lined with Saradoc, Esmeralda, and a host of others, all chattering so much that there was no making out anything of scoldings or much else among all the chaos.
But then Bilbo made his way down the steps.
And his face was white as milk.
How long it took or exactly what happened no one really remembers to this day: Frodo lay as if dead, and Merry was too panicked for anything to be more than a blur as the doctor was called for and Frodo carried upstairs to bed, cradled in a weeping Bilbo's arms. They laid him down and undressed him, revealing areas already turning purplish-bluish-greenish from bruising. But he began to stir, at least, and finally opened his eyes for Bilbo, who looked as if Gandalf had just stopped in with a magic bag that refilled itself with seed-cakes whenever emptied.
And then the news improved.
"He'll be fine," the doctor said. "Watch him carefully; he's likely to be a bit sick from that knock, probably have quite the head-ache, but he's a hard-headed lad, it seems. . .in more ways than one! Keep him on liquids and in bed for a few days; if he's feeling well in three days' time, it should be safe to let him sit up for short periods, then get up for a bit with close supervision. . .from an adult, mind you! And - " - he added with a sniff - " - it might be - ahem! - prudent - to see about a good lock for the cellar."
One might note that Merry was, of course, forced to explain the situation. . .over a bowl of peppermint egg soup, at least, to ease his upset stomach.
Well. . .Frodo somehow managed to avoid getting off with as harsh a scolding, no doubt because of his injuries. He threw up a few times, mind you, and it took some doing for the peppermint egg soup to stay down him; his stomach did not settle as well as Merry's, thanks to hitting his head. . .but once it did, Bilbo coddled him with little silver-iced cakes and cream of chicken with mushroom soup; apple, carrot, and chicken stew; special little sandwiches made up for picnics in Frodo's room; candies from Bucklebury Sweets. . . .
Merry, meanwhile, had to go without dessert throughout most of Yule, much to his chagrin. . .though to be fair, Frodo was unaware of this fact until he was much recovered, and when he learned of it, began slipping a share of his treats to his younger cousin.
There were other Yules the two spent together, both before and since, but if ever one needed proof that Yule with the Bagginses was never a dull affair, this might well be remembered as it. . . .
"It always ends up like that," Pippin grumbled. "We get in trouble, and Frodo gets lauded like a hero, even though he's the worst of us all."
"What rubbish," replied Frodo amiably. "Pip, you know full well that you're the worst of all of us, and your wide innocent eyes have saved you many a time. Merry's the one that gets in trouble."
Pippin looked around at the grinning faces that watched them. "That's not true…"
"Oh, it is so true," replied Merry, "and if I know Frodo, he's about to give us a very good example."
"He can't," said Pippin confidently. "He's implicated in all our stories."
"Not this one," Frodo beamed at him. "I wasn't there, but Aunt Lalia told me all about it…" Ignoring the sudden horrified look on Pippin's face, he took one more puff of his pipe and began to speak.
On First Yule the little hobbits were bright and cheerful. The adults were rather less so, and one of the difficulties of the day was keeping the little ones out of the large banquet hall of the Great Smials where a grand mountain of gifts was growing. Servants bore several trunks from the visiting Brandybucks' apartments, trunks that eight-year-old Merry had caught a glimpse of during the packing-up, filled with bright paper and curling ribbons. He followed through the bustling tunnels all the way to the great room, where he was denied entrance along with several other young hobbits, but not before he caught a glimpse of the tantalising mountain within.
'Teatime, young hobbits!' a jovial servant said, shooing them away. 'We'll gather in the great room at teatime to enjoy the blessings promised by the New Year. Teatime and not before!'
The large doors were firmly shut, and the little hobbits stared at the doors in vain for a time, feeling that teatime would never come. A group of tweens swooped upon them and organised a grand game of "I hide and you seek me" in the winding and branching tunnels of the Great Smials.
Merry kept returning to the great room as a moth is drawn to the candle, hoping for a glimpse of the bright promise within. One of these times he met his younger cousin Ferdi, evidently with the same purpose. Luck was with them this time, for one of the doors opened slightly, showing a flustered Pearl. 'O Merry!' she cried, seeing the lads. 'I'm that glad to see you!'
She looked about, but no one was to be seen. Preparations had been concluded some time before, and Eglantine had volunteered to watch over the presents, with her eldest daughter happy to help. The great room was growing dim and shadowy as the light from the high windows began to fade. The lamps had not yet been lit. Noise and laughter was to be heard from the kitchens on the far side of the enormous hall as final preparations were made for tea. Silver gleamed at the ready-laid places on the snowy tablecloths, and platters of food were covered with dampened cloths that bulged with promise. It seemed that teatime must be at hand. Indeed, the young hobbits heard calls echoing in the tunnels, mothers summoning young ones to wash and change in final preparation for the festive gathering.
'I'm glad to see you,' Pearl repeated. 'Mum went to fetch something and hasn't come back, and I need to...' she bit her lip and blushed, then rushed on. 'In any event, could you come in and watch over Pippin? He's asleep on a blanket, and I don't want to waken him, taking him up, and I don't want to leave him...'
'I'll be happy to!' Merry said promptly, and Ferdi chimed in to say he'd help.
'O good,' Pearl said, and scurried away.
The lads crept into the great room and eased the tall door closed behind them, hardly able to believe their good fortune. Dutifully they went at once to look at the peaceful babe, but Pippin didn't seem to need much watching and so they turned to the mountain of presents in the centre of the room. Merry saw some familiar paper, part-way up, and he pointed. 'Those are ours!' he said proudly.
'They're not!' Ferdi countered. 'I saw my mother wrapping that present particularly! It's a doll for my sister!'
'I'll prove it to you!' Merry said, and moved with purpose towards the towering heap.
'What're you doing?' the younger hobbit hissed, but his cousin merely smiled in a superior manner.
'Merry!' Ferdi warned, furtively looking towards the kitchens. Surely a grown-up would appear at any moment!
'I'm climbing a mountain,' Merry said. 'Look! I'm Bilbo!'
'And I'm a dwarf,' Ferdi said sceptically, but his eyes lighted as the game caught his imagination, especially since the carefully-stacked presents didn't tumble down at once under Merry's assault. He stepped forward to join the wondrous climb. 'Bet I can beat you to the top!'
'Bet you cannot!' Merry retorted, and the race was on. It was a cautious race, of course, for a pile of presents is not quite so easy to climb as a precipice.
Unknown to the lads, baby Pippin had wakened and was looking about himself in wonder. Where was Mother? She'd just been here a moment ago. He opened his mouth to send up a demanding wail, when motion caught his eye.
He'd noticed the bright paper and ribbons earlier, but sister Pearl had kept him happily occupied in games of peek-boo and other delights. Now no sister was nearby to distract him. The papers were not quite so bright in the dimming light, but ribbons still glinted in a fascinating way.
He'd learned to roll over recently, much to the delight of his sisters. The first time he'd rolled from tummy-to-back, Pearl had clapped her hands and called the rest of the family to see this new achievement. She'd placed him on his tummy once more and encouraged him to roll—which he did! Again and again he demonstrated his new skill, laughing into the doting faces above him, until Eglantine finally put a stop to the game, to nurse him and put him down for a nap to recover from his exertions.
Rolling from back-to-tummy was a little more difficult, but at last he mastered the trick. He lifted his little head and strained towards the bright ribbons, so tantalisingly close. Lifting arms and legs from the floor, he rocked on his round little tummy but came no closer. He was ready to wail his frustration when a bright idea struck him.
It was no work at all, really, to roll from tummy-to-back again, and he was that much closer to the prize! Working at it for all he was worth, soon he'd rolled to the bottom of the pile and was able to grasp the nearest curling ribbons, pulling them to his mouth in an ecstasy of delighted exploration... when there was a shout of alarm, and paper and ribbon and boxes showered down around him.
A cook's assistant, hearing the youthful shout, was there at once, picking up Merry and scolding like a magpie. 'How did you get in here, and what do you think you're doing?'
Upon discovering Ferdi amongst the wreck her fury was doubled. With a young hobbit ear gripped firmly in each hand, the cook's assistant dragged the miscreants to the doors and cast them out with a stern warning not to return until teatime! And they had better make good use of the time, and wash!
Pippin had been startled by the noise and confusion, and though he'd been ready to cry, he was overcome by curiosity and excitement to be surrounded by so many bright ribbons and enticing paper that crumpled and tore with satisfying sounds and sensations! He rolled further into the fallen heap and found himself enveloped in softness. He rolled once more, fetching up against the inside bottom of an upset box, as he wrapped the softness round himself. Pulling the soft folds of the lovely knitted shawl against his cheek with one hand, he found his mouth with the thumb of the other hand and resumed his interrupted nap.
Servants moved into the great room to light the lamps and try to undo as much of the damage as could be undone in the short time before the Tooks would assemble. Tumbled packages were righted, crooked ribbons were smoothed, torn paper hastily pasted together. A lovely knitted shawl was tucked back into the box that had fallen over, the box put right-side-up, the top of the box replaced and a new ribbon tied in place.
Eglantine found Pearl just coming out of the rooms assigned them. 'There you are!' she said briskly, pulling a brush from her bag and going over her eldest daughter's curls. 'I went back to the great room and you weren't there! But of course...' She was interrupted before she could thank her daughter on bringing the babe back to their rooms, to sleep in a cradle under a servant's watchful eye whilst the rest of the family celebrated at the festive tea.
'Eglantine! Pearl! Paladin sent me to find you...' Esmeralda Brandybuck said, swooping upon them and taking them by the arm. 'Come along now; the bells have rung already and tea's about to begin. It wouldn't do to be late!' They joined the last of the stragglers on their way to the great room, and indeed had barely taken their places when Mistress Lalia swept into the room on her son's arm.
'Well now!' Lalia said grandly, after being bowed to by all the guests. 'Let the feast begin!'
The little hobbits, of course, could scarcely eat for excitement, seeing the somewhat lopsided mountain of presents in the centre of the room. Their elders, however, made sure that the platters of sandwiches and fresh and pickled vegetables and fruit and cakes and biscuits were well-dispersed before the mountain could be mined for its riches.
At last, after an eternity of eating, it was time. Thain Ferumbras rose from his seat and moved to the mountain. Taking up an armload of packages, he began to call out names, and hobbits came forth to claim their prizes and carry them back to their places. The presents would be distributed, a time-consuming process, and all would be opened at once when the last gift found its owner, prolonging the agonies the young hobbits were suffering.
Mistress Lalia laughed at the large box her son carried to the head table and set before her. 'My goodness!' she said. 'You've brought me the largest present!'
'And the heaviest!' Ferumbras said. 'It seems to have gained weight since I wrapped it up for you! Perhaps little fairies have added their treasure!'
The Mistress smiled broadly and hauled herself to her feet. Breathless, the little hobbits waited. 'Cousins!' Lalia said grandly. 'May the New Year bring to all peace, prosperity, and plenty!'
'And plenty!' the gathered hobbits echoed, and as one they began to tear away paper (if younger) or carefully loosened the paper from their presents so that it might be folded and stored away to be used again (if older).
There were murmurs of appreciation and exclamations of delight all around the room.
At the head table, Mistress Lalia lifted the lid from the large box and said, 'Ah, but you spoil me, Ferumbras!' Her eyes feasted on the snowy shawl even as her hands caressed the softness. 'This must be wool from Paladin's sheep, for there is none finer in all the Shire!'
'Paladin's sheep indeed,' Ferumbras said, even as Paladin uttered his thanks for the compliment.
Reaching further to lift the shawl from its wrappings, Lalia remarked, 'But there is treasure within, indeed! What have you done, my clever lad? Wrapped up something... but what...?'
She lifted the shawl and the folds fell away to reveal the blinking baby, who rewarded her with a bright smile.
'Well now!' she said in astonishment. 'What's this?'
Little Pippin crowed his delight and reached to pat the soft wrinkled cheeks.
'Treasure indeed!' Ferumbras laughed, while Paladin and Eglantine stared, open-mouthed. 'You weren't thinking of giving the lad away, were you?'
'I—I—I don't know how—' Eglantine began, but Pippin, hearing mother's voice, turned and held out his arms to her with a little chirrup of joy.
Of course she rose to go to her little one, taking him from the Mistress with a stammered apology.
'No need to apologise!' Lalia said brightly. 'Why, it's the nicest Yuletide surprise I've ever had!'
And indeed it was.