Chapter Four: First tale by PathvainAelien: Second tale by Gentle Hobbit: Linking passages and ending by Gayalondiel.
"Well," Merry said, "that's everyone, isn't it? I mean, we've had hobbits, Men, Dwarves, and Elves don't celebrate Yule…"
"I beg to differ," said Aragorn with a grin. "There was at least one occasion where Yule was held as a feast in Rivendell."
"Really?" Frodo's eyes widened. "When was that? And why?"
Gandalf chuckled. "You, of all people, should be able to guess that, Master Baggins," he said. At a bewildered look from Frodo, mirrored by the hobbits either side of him, he lowered his dying pipe and once more began to speak.
"Most definitely out of character."
"Highly unnatural of him, indeed."
"I think I shall."
The two voices, one deep and sort of grumbly and the other neither high nor low, but infinitely pleasant, eyed Bilbo Baggins from a distance. The old and wizened Hobbit face was bent low, as always, over a journal. However, Gandalf and Elrond could both see that his eyes were misty, as if caught in some memory, and as a further testament to his daydreaming, his blue feathered quill was being absently twirled between two fingers.
Seeing Bilbo lost "with his head stuck in the clouds" (as Lobelia Sackville-Baggins would have snapped) was not at all unusual. The oddness of it came from the downward-drooping mouth, the sadness in his eyes, and the further wrinkling of the space around his eyes. Gandalf the Grey hefted his staff, adorned his pointy hat, and began walking the short distance towards Bilbo and the bench he occupied.
He, too, was lost in his thoughts, struggling to remember the last time he had seen Bilbo looking this depressed. And especially in Rivendell, of all places! Gandalf scratched at his long grey beard, and then the penny dropped with him. Perhaps being in Rivendell was the problem after all-after all, besides short journeys now and then, Bilbo typically lived in Bag-End with his "nephew," Frodo Baggins. Hobbits are a cheery sort of creature, but they do require several things that are necessary for their contentment-ample food and drink, pipe-weed, peace and quiet, and most importantly, family. Even strange old Hobbits such as Bilbo (as half of the Shire would have thought of him) needed to be around family around Yuletide, and this was to be Bilbo's first away from the Shire. 'Yule was only three weeks away,' Gandalf thought. "Too bad they don't celebrate that here," he muttered.
Bilbo almost dropped his quill as Gandalf abruptly sat beside him. He clutched at his chest in a sort of mocked fright.
"Gandalf! There you go again, sneaking up one me. You should announce yourself properly before you scare an old Hobbit half to death!" But despite his seeming ire at being startled, Bilbo grinned widely at his old friend.
"Perhaps you should pick a better spot to drift off," Gandalf returned as he patted his pocket down for a pipe, only to remember that he was currently out of Old Toby. He was due for a visit to Hobbiton soon, best stock up on it then. With a sigh, he returned the fine wooden pipe to his pocket.
"Drift off? I'll have you know that I was thinking up a passage for my book," Bilbo said indignantly. As Gandalf raised his bushy eyebrows, Bilbo sighed. "All right. I might have been thinking about the Shire," he finally said. He looked out over the vastness of Rivendell, at the beautiful waterfall over sharp rocks. He loved being here…truly he did. But he was the only Hobbit in Rivendell, and he sometimes missed certain traditions, as well as certain people.
"Is it Frodo you're worried about, or the fact that this will be the first Yule you've spent without Old Toby and the Gaffer's home brew?" Gandalf asked, hoping for a smile. He got one, a thin one, but a smile nonetheless.
"I do miss that stuff," Bilbo joked thoughtfully. Gandalf stood, and offered Bilbo a hand. Bilbo grasped it, then closed his journal and picked up his quill. Gandalf walked him into the dining Hall, then declined a late (and second helping of) lunch.
"No, no, must be off. I have something that needs seeing to," he demurred. Bilbo, already in the middle of eating a scone, looked at him suspiciously.
"What are you up to, Gandalf?" At Gandalf's surprised (and guilty) look, Bilbo huffed. "I may be old, but I am a Baggins," he said, as if his lineage made him ever so much cleverer than the other families of the Shire. Gandalf thought of some of the other families and figured that Bilbo might have a point.
"Well, I suppose you will just have to act surprised, Mr. Baggins," Gandalf rumbled as he strode from the hall, leaving Bilbo smirking behind him.
Exactly three weeks later, on the eve of Yule, Gandalf galloped his horse back from the Shire. He had been cutting it close, but after all, what were friends for? A few hours after his arrival in Rivendell, the Dining Hall was filled with Elves. They were a bit dubious about this Yule tradition, but were willing to try anything to cheer Bilbo up. That, and if Elrond and Lady Arwen were going to celebrate, they might as well see that the fuss was about.
Minutes after the final preparations, a blindfolded Bilbo was led in by Elrohir. When he was at last allowed to look, he beheld a wonderful site-a Hall full of Elves, surrounded by the unmistakable scent and sight of pipe-weed smoke. Bilbo looked at Gandalf in bewilderment, and Gandalf was hard-pressed to hide his mirth. When Bilbo spied the Gaffer's home brew-in extremely large amounts-being drunk with apparent relish by the Elves, he could hold out no longer. Bilbo and Gandalf laughed heartily together. As Bilbo turned to thank him, Gandalf held something out to him. Not the Gaffer's brew, not Old Toby, something even better. Bilbo's eyes widened in his astonishment as he took in Frodo's clear, carefully written script. However brief it was, it warmed his heart-and moistened his eyes.
Gandalf seems to think that you are in need of cheering up. We were under short notice, but have tried to make your first Yule away from home more than satisfactory. Sam persuaded his Gaffer into making up some of his home brew, and Merry and I procured the pipe-weed. Pippin says to tell you that he helped too, and if you should see another dragon and need any help, that he is a stout little Hobbit indeed. Have a merry Yule, and we all hope to see you again soon.
All my love,
Bilbo wiped his steaming eyes as he pocketed the parchment-the best Yule present he believed he had ever received. He then, with a blooming smile, accepted a draught of home brew from Gandalf, and a pouch of Old Toby from Elrond.
"Happy Yule," he said to them, and they both smiled back.
"Meriu sa haryalye alasse no vanyalye Ambdrello," said Elrond immediately, with a smile.
Not a bad Yule after all, all things considered. He had-and always would have, a truly wonderful Yule gift: all of Frodo's love.
"Wow," Merry managed, after several minutes spent with his jaw flapping in the evening breeze. "How wonderful for Bilbo. We did miss him, that year, and every year…"
"We weren't at Bag End that year, were we?" Pippin frowned, gentle guilt creeping across the years to whisper in his ear. "I remember, we had family stuff… we did worry about you, Frodo. That was an alright year for you, wasn't it?" He looked anxiously at his cousin, but Frodo was somewhat choked by unshed tears for Bilbo. He smiled a watery smile at Pippin.
"Beggin' your pardon," said Sam, "but that year was just marvellous. If I may?"
Tinkling high chimes rang through the frosty air as joyful children scrambled down the lanes of Hobbiton. One small bell was held in the hand of each hobbit-child and rung as they gleefully ran. From one hole to another they went, crying out Yule greetings in high voices.
If they were lucky (and they usually were), the young hobbits were invited into the warm, and given a hot drink to sip by the fire. And then, with inexhaustible energy, off they'd go again to the next smial.
A favourite place to end up (this commonly agreed upon by all the young folk) was Bag End, the richest, largest and most comfortable hobbit-hole in all of Hobbiton. Old Mr. Bilbo never failed to bring out hot mulled cider and just-baked cakes and biscuits. It was heavenly to toast one's frost-nipped toes by the roaring fire at Bag End and to gaze about at all the odd knick-knacks and foreign things that covered shelves, the mantlepiece and indeed any surface within reach. There was always a story or two in the offing, should any of the young well-wishers desire it -- and they usually did.This year, however, was the first Yule in which the new Master, young Mr. Frodo, lived alone at Bag End. He was an unknown quality and the children felt a thrill of excitement (and just a hint of apprehension) when at last they wended their way towards the familiar round green door. They knew Frodo, of course. Everyone did. But the question in the minds of every lad and lass was -- would Mr. Frodo Baggins' generosity in the giving of sweets match his uncle's?
Mr. Frodo Baggins lit the last of his candles and carefully placed it, just so, in the kitchen window. Satisfied, he turned and lit a taper.
The round green door gave its usual comforting creak as Frodo opened it wide. He stepped outside and snuffed the night air appreciatively. It was crisp and clear. Stars glittered in beauty overhead, and frost rimmed the hedges and grass before him.
High voices drifted up from below the Hill and Frodo smiled. It had begun, then. Lifting the wrought iron lids carefully, each in turn, he lit the two candles within the stained glass lanterns that he had hung earlier that day on either side of the door. As the wicks caught and settled into a steady glow, the lanterns' rich colours of red, blue, green and yellow shone brightly. He blew out the taper then and stepped out into the laneway.
From each window of Bag End, flames of three candles flickered merrily. Once again Frodo smiled and then he returned indoors.
It was his first Yule as Master of Bag End. If truth be told, while he was looking forward to this night, he also regretted his determination to play his new role as Master. He was alone in the smial. Both Merry and Pippin had invited him to their respective homes and festivities, but Frodo had turned them down, if somewhat regretfully. Fredegar and Folco were busy helping their families in festival duties similar to Frodo's own and so, in turn, had just as regretfully refused Frodo's invitation to spend the evening at Bag End.
The voices were still a good distance away, and so Frodo pondered. What should he do? All was ready in the smial and so there was nothing that needed to be done. Suddenly a look of remembrance and delight came over his face and he turned and went into his study.
Very slowly and deliberately, he set upon his desk several items: a piece of thick vellum, wooden tweezers, a stick of stone with a smooth, rounded and oval end, and a small box. He covered the bottom half of the vellum with a thin paper and then laid two long and flat stones over each end. He took up the box and carefully removed the lid.
Inside, there could be seen a glint of gold. What lay within looked fair and pure. Frodo gazed at it for a moment and then reached in a finger and touched it ever so softly. But then he shook his head and frowned. He withdrew his finger and reached for the tweezers with his left hand.
Once again he reached into the box, but this time he took hold of the object with the tweezers and gingerly drew the thing out. It shimmered and gleamed in the candle light and Frodo held it up before his face, marvelling at its beauty. And then, very slowly and carefully, he draped the thin, curling sheet of gold leaf across one spot on the parchment.
Briskly, he took up the metal stick with his right hand and, bent low over the desk, he began to press the smooth oval end over one tiny corner of the leaf. Meticulously, he rubbed the stick in tiny circles and, slowly, gold was pressed into the vellum.
At last he put down the stick and carefully put aside the unused leaf. He held up the parchment. He angled it this way and that. Candlelight shimmered on pressed gold.
And then he hesitated. He laid the sheet down. Slowly, he reached into his breeches pocket and drew out yet another golden thing. Candle light shone on this too as he held it up before his eyes and turned it this way and that. Unlike the gold leaf, this was solid and round, and it was smooth and cool to the touch.
He touched it with a fingertip -- stroking it slightly along the outside curve. He didn't quite caress the inside curve -- something held him off from that -- nonetheless, he marvelled at the flawless surface and how light played along the edge and around, and reflected in on itself.
A loud banging broke the stillness and Frodo jumped. Hastily, he pocketed the ring and its chain once more and hurried to the front door. The children! And he had not even heard their voices as they came up the lane.
He flung open the door and there stood the younger children of the Cotton and Gamgee families, with Tom and Samwise shepherding them from the back. High voices rose in a clamour, wishing Frodo a Merry Yule, and bells were shaken with much enthusiasm.
"Come in, come in!" said Frodo delightedly. And as Sam and Tom made sure that cloaks were hung up and feet wiped carefully dry on the mat, Frodo scurried about in the kitchen.
Soon the children's hopes were realized, for the rich little cakes and piping hot biscuits were every bit as good as Mr. Bilbo's, and the milled cider was as sweet and spiced as ever it was.
Sam looked at Frodo with a smile. "What were you doing when we came, if I may make so bold, sir? I'll warrant you never heard our voices for all we shouted."
Frodo looked at him blankly. "Why... I don't know," he said after a moment. And then his face cleared. "Ah, yes. I was working on a bit of a project."
But at the sound of a "grown-ups'" talk beginning, an anxious young voice piped up. "But....aren't you going to tell us some stories?"
"I'll do better than that," and Frodo rose to his feet. "Wait a moment."
He returned a moment later with the page of vellum carefully cradled in his hands. The children crowded around and Sam craned his neck to see over the tops of heads.
Careful lettering in black ink stood crisply on the page. Around the first large letter (a 'B'), many loops and knots twined together. Touches of colour showed leaves and flowers and even occasionally a little animal. But what caught the children's attention most of all was that the inside of that letter shimmered golden in the firelight.
"May I touch it?" asked one child, and soon a clamour rose from all the res. Sam looked at Frodo in consternation.
"Don't worry, Sam," Frodo said laughing. "Just let me get something to clean their hands with."
And as soon as each small hand was wiped clean and patted dry, one by one the children touched the gold leaf. The youngest of them all, Nibs Cotton, giggled. "It's so warm and smooth!" But Sam just gazed at the writing and the leaves and flowers.
"It's beautiful, Mr. Frodo," he said in awe. "And you did this!"
"It's for Bilbo," Frodo answered. "It's for his book of tales that he was working on before he went away. It will be the first page."
Sam frowned at this. "Beg your pardon for asking this, but how will you give it to him?"
"I don't know," Frodo said with a shrug. "But one day I shall see him again, and I'll give it to him then."
A small hand tugged at Frodo's wrist. "Please, Mr. Frodo, mightn't we have a story -- one like Mr. Bilbo used to tell us?"
Frodo and Sam looked at each other and smiled. Tom grinned.
"Of course you may," Frodo said, secretly delighted to be sought after for tales.
And so much of the evening passed with Frodo sitting on the floor amongst rapt faces and shining eyes as he wove story after story. New groups of children arrived and they joined the throng. The pressed gold leaf of the vellum shone in delicate beauty and the children thought it a tantalizing glimpse of far-off stories and mysterious folk...
...while a far more mysterious golden thing lay forgotten in a pocket.
For it had no place amongst such comfort and cheer, and could not possibly compete against what its bearer yearned for this night: friendship, sharing and joy.
No. At this Yule time, it had very little power at all.
Night had well and truly fallen, and the stars were emerging to twinkle bright overhead, promising a frost with the morning. The air was clear and chill, and one by one the thoughts of the company turned to bed, wrapped deeply in warm blankets. Aragorn had just given voice to the suggestion that enough stories had been told, to a chorus of hearty agreement, when Gandalf rose to his feet.
"One thing more," he said. "It is an oddity among hobbits, that the giving of gifts is so very special to them. It is the very essence of their nature, in fact; in all hobbits, at least in all I have known, there is the ability to give far more than they expect to receive, for no greater reward than a warm bed and a hot meal at the very end of all." He paused, noting as he did so that the four hobbits with him were busily looking down, or away, or intently examining their fingers; anything to prevent their having to meet the eyes of anyone else.
"One hobbit in particular is especially giving," he continued. "He wished to come with us, you know. He longed to, but his body has tired while his mind is yet bright, and he had to remain behind. He did not, however, forget his role, for one amongst you hobbits had to be the one who remembered, amid all this dreadful haste, that hobbits you are. And to that end… this!"
Suddenly in his hands appeared four small parcels. None could say quite how they had got there, whether he had reached beneath his cloak or into his bag or whether they had just appeared out of thin air, but before anyone could stop to wonder he had knelt and distributed them to the four hobbits.
"Old Toby!" Merry cried, ripping the paper from his small bundle. "Finest reserve… oh, this is hard to get… that silly old hobbit." He beamed around at the other, a smile that said this fine treat would be rationed and shared out amongst the smokers of the group.
"Oh!" Pippin shouted, if it were possible, even louder from his recumbent position. "Oh… it's North Farthing Whiskey… single malt… very good year…" He hugged the bottle to him happily. "You wait 'till you taste this!" he crowed to the Fellowship at large. "There's nothing finer!"
"There certainly isn't," agreed Sam, unwrapping his parcel and carefully folding the paper. He beamed. "Why, it's a new cookpan!" he cried. "My smallest was holed, I had to leave it behind. He's right kind, is Mr. Bilbo, bless him."
All eyes turned to Frodo, as he carefully unwrapped his own gift. Delicately he pulled back the paper to reveal a small bundle topped with a silk handkerchief embroidered "B.B." Laughing as he remembered how Bilbo had dashed out of Bag End without a pocket handkerchief on his very first adventure, he opened it out, only to find another, tiny gift within.
It was a small pin, bearing a single white jewel – a diamond? – on a plain silver setting, nestled upon a note. Frodo fastened the pin carefully to his waistcoat before opening the paper to find his uncle's familiar scrawl.
This was a gift to me from the Dwarves, when I started my journey home. The stone is a diamond, the setting is Mithril; they gave it to me "to guide my way home".
Now you are on your great adventure. I cannot come with you, but this little piece of me I may send along with you. And may the stars guide you home.
A/N: "Meriu sa haryalye alasse no vanyalye Ambdrello" is a phrase that J.R.R.Tolkien stated, despite the fact that Elves do not celebrate Christmas, to be the equivalent of "Merry Christmas and a happy New Year".