8. First Yule: Festivity Tainted, Festivity Missed
This was the evening of First Yule and the day had been filled with the happy commotion of the hobbit lads and lasses as they received their gifts. In even the richest families the gift-giving was the same, one gift from each parent, one gift from each grandparent and one gift from each aunt and uncle. Hobbit families being what they were, even a child whose parents had died and had no grandparents living usually still had aunts and uncles. But, failing that, cousins and close friends would make sure the child was not forgotten. First Yule was also when children would give gifts to their friends. Second Yule was the day the children would give gifts to their elders, the pattern being the same with the gifts most usually ones the child or young hobbit had made. Coming of age marked the change from a hobbit receiving gifts on First to Second Yule.
"It's your move, Fatty," Berilac Brandybuck said softly for the fourth time. "If you don't move soon, I'm going to declare you dead and claim the victory."
Fatty Bolger continued to contemplate the chessboard that sat between them. "The more you pester me, the slower I will go," he replied in the slow cadence of one whose thoughts are occupied elsewhere. He and Berilac had been playing chess most of the day in one of the many parlors in Brandy Hall. Fatty had won more than he had lost, and the current game was going well for him. More of Berilac's white pieces sat in front of Fatty than Fatty's black ones in front of Berilac, with Fatty having mostly lost pawns whilst Berilac had lost both rooks, a bishop and a knight. Fatty finally moved his bishop on the white squares a few cautious spaces diagonally to his left.
"Not sure what that was supposed to accomplish, Fatty, but it does not seem to be worth all the time it took," Berilac said while quickly moving a pawn forward.
Fatty grinned as he, with equal speed, moved the bishop once more and snatched up the pawn. "It accomplished that!" he proclaimed triumphantly. "And it is once again your move!" Fatty stretched his arms up, placed his hands behind his head and leaned back. He was really enjoying this game.
In the ballroom, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts, uncles and cousins sat laughing and clapping as their little lads and lasses, teens and tweens performed in the Hall's customary Yule talent show. Paladin and Eglantine Took sat beside Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck in the front row center seats as befitting the Master of the Hall, the Thain of the Shire and their wives.
The youngest hobbit children always went first, in a large group to give them confidence. Their parents and nurses had been teaching them nursery rhymes along with the simple songs of childhood for their part in the show. Little four year old Willadoc and six year old Monimas Brandybuck, who were brothers, wandered about in the back of the group. They made a good pretense of singing and reciting but were having more fun tickling the girls. This was quickly solved by their nurse calling them forward to recite the rhyme of the "Three Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens" by themselves. With much blushing and stammering, the two lads did a rather fair job of it, taking their bows to a round of hearty applause and laughter.
The lads and lasses from about twelve years of age to seventeen were next, appearing most usually in small groups of family members or close friends. Longer poems and songs along with short skits were performed by this age level.
Last of all were the oldest teens with the tweenagers. Hearty songs, some of sad romances and some humorous ditties, sounded out from those with a true gift for singing. Lengthy epic poems of long ago and far away held the adults enthralled as recited by youthful hobbits and hobbitesses who had the flare for the dramatic. In between the dramatic recitations, tensions were eased by lads who could tell a good, though sometimes bawdy, joke or story. Of course, there were many skits, pantomimes and puppet shows.
This time the curtain on the puppet stage opened to reveal hard working hobbit farmers hacking away at the ground with hoes, their backs to each other.
"Been a right fine year this year!" said the farmer with bright red yarn for hair. "Has it been a fine year for you, Elinbras?"
"Aye! That it has, Astegrim!" said Elinbras, who had bright yellow hair. "Been neigh onto the best year Tookland has seen in many a long year!" The writer of the puppet play was obviously a young Took.
"Yes," said Astegrim, "I grew a tater neigh as big as me!" Suddenly a huge potato appeared by the happy farmer.
"Well now, that does look to be a right big tater!" exclaimed Elinbras, who turned to look at the tater, causing him to hit Astegrim firmly on the side of his head with the hoe. "But it don't hold a candle to my carrot!" A massive carrot appeared from below the ground.
"Let me have a closer look at that," said Astegrim. He moved over to examine the gigantic vegetable, shoving Elinbras out of his way with his hoe.
The traditional puppet battle of pushing and hitting was well underway when a new group of characters entered from the left side of the stage. Three of the newcomers were the same size as the Took farmers, but two were much bigger. Several of the adults sat up straighter, immediately more alert.
"What do you two have here?" a hobbit-sized newcomer asked of the two farmers after a big puppet had moved between them to break up the comedic fight.
"We've the biggest tater and carrot in the Shire!" exclaimed Astegrim.
"Would you be wantin' a look at them?" asked Elinbras.
The group of hobbit and big people puppets moved in for a closer look, then they gave each other exaggerated nods.
"We ain't here for the lookin'!" bellowed one of the big puppets, "We be here for the gatherin'!" With that the potato and carrot quickly disappeared then reappeared with two thirds of their bulk missing.
"Very fine! A very fine play!" Saradoc's voice rang out as he stood, pulled Esmeralda to her feet with him, and started to applaud as loudly as he could. Paladin and Eglantine leapt to their feet adding their applause to that of the Brandybucks. Slowly, a bit in shock, the rest of the adults who made up the audience rose while clapping their hands. When the applause began to fade, Saradoc turned to face the crowd as he lifted his hands for their attention.
"That ends tonight's talent show. The children and young folk all hope you enjoyed their performances. Remember to express your thanks to them personally on your way out. Have a good evening! Good Yule everyone!" With that Saradoc leaned over to his brother Merimac and motioned for him to start everyone moving out of the ballroom. Saradoc and Paladin exchanged glances, spoke to their wives, then left out a different door that exited the ballroom closer to Saradoc's study. Esme and Lanti moved among the confused youngsters. As gently as possible they shushed the children's questions, herding them toward the door where the adults waited to congratulate them and claim their sons and daughters.
In the parlor, Fatty Bolger had just placed Barilac Brandybuck's king in check when a commotion in the hallway made him look up from the chessboard.
Into the room raced a frightful apparition. A tall creature in flowing black robes with a sword in its hand bore down upon the two chess players. Fatty shrieked. He then turned deathly pale before falling sideways out of his chair.
"No! No!" he screamed in terror. "They are gone! It's gone! I don't have it! No!" With that, he fainted.
The wooden toy sword fell from the hand of the black clad figure. A black tattered wool blanket slid from the head of Marroc Brandybuck, who was revealed to be sitting on the shoulders of his cousin, Falco Burrows.
"You had best put that all away and find your parents," Berilac said from where he had knelt on the floor beside Fatty. Barilac turned to unbutton Fatty's collar button, as he felt Fatty's wrist for his pulse.
"We were only playing," Falco managed to whisper. "We didn't mean to . . ." The terrified lad couldn't finish his sentence, as his cousin slipped down off of his shoulders.
Berilac looked up at the frightened young hobbits. "He will be alright. I know you meant no harm, but Fredegar here saw those things. They broke into the house he was in. It is no joking matter to him." Berilac could see the lads were sorry for what had happened and a thought came to him. "Would you like to help him?" he asked the youngsters.
"Yes!" replied two shaky voices.
"Then fetch him a glass of brandy, while I try to bring him around. And boys," he added, as they ran for the door. Falco and Marroc stopped and turned around. "No more such games. Is that clearly understood?"
"Yes, sir!" The boys replied, nodding, then they ran in search of the glass of brandy.
Berilac felt a hand grab his wrist. Fatty was staring wide eyed at him. "It is alright," he whispered as he took Fatty's hand in both of his. "It's alright, my dear friend. It was just two lads playing." Berilac reached up and started to smooth Fatty's hair back from his eyes and gently stroked his forehead. "Just two lads playing. They meant no harm, Fatty. They didn't know."
Merry had risen early. The light of day soon would be fading in the overcast sky, the others would be waking and he would lose his chance for a moment alone with Pippin. They were only a few days out from Rivendell on their journey to . . . Merry looked to the south-east, toward the evil land he suddenly did not feel like naming. He shivered a bit then turned to look off across the leagues to the west, toward where he knew the Shire lay. He swallowed hard as he thought of what this day had been like at the Hall. He looked over at Pippin and swallowed hard again. Merry nervously fingered the small object in his jacket pocket as he went over to where Pippin was sleeping.
Pippin startled a bit at a thump near his head but didn't come fully awake. A nudge at his shoulder and his cousin's voice made him open his eyes.
"What is it, Merry?" he said, sitting up a little too quickly then feeling slightly dizzy because of it. He realized the thump had been Merry sitting down hard on the firm ground beside him.
"Sshhh! Not too loud, Pippin. Everyone but Gimli is asleep, and I am hoping he won't bother us." Merry looked at the ground. He seemed as though something was troubling him.
"What is it, Merry?" Pippin asked again, nearly whispering this time. "Have I done something wrong?" He reached out to gently lay his hand on Merry's shoulder.
"No," Merry said, quickly looking up into Pippin's eyes before looking down again. "It is just . . . well . . . I . . . Do you know what day it is?"
Pippin let his hand drop from his cousin's shoulder while his gaze shifted from Merry to some point in the distance. "It's First Yule," he said flatly. "It occurred to me this morning, as we were setting up camp and while I was trying to fall asleep." A quizzical look came to Pippin's face and he brought his gaze back to Merry. "I am still not doing well with this sleeping during the day. Are you Merry?"
Merry shook his head but didn't say anything. He continued to look at the ground while fiddling with something in his pocket.
Pippin now looked down as well. He was getting uncomfortable with Merry's odd behavior. "Is it important that it is First Yule?" he asked quietly.
"I was thinking about home," Merry said softly, "about what would have been going on there today. Your family is at the Hall this year, you know."
"I know," Pippin said quietly. "Although," he paused and looked back off into the distance again, "I had not really planned on our being there, us leaving with Frodo and all. I had no idea when we might be back."
"I have something for you, well . . . something for us to share and something for you." Merry suddenly thrust out his hand. One of his handkerchiefs, the ends knotted together to make a little bag, rested on his palm. Pippin took it and untied the knots. Inside was some dried fruit, a small apple and some nut meats.
"I lifted some stuff when Sam wasn't looking," Merry said as a hint of a grin came to his lips.
"A Yule feast!" Pippin said chuckling, then he took out a small pocket knife and cut the apple in two. He held half out to Merry, but Merry made no move to take it. "You said it was for us to share. It is not a feast if we don't share it, Merry." Pippin held the piece of apple up under Merry's nose. Merry's grin broadened out as he took his piece of apple and bit into it. They made quick work of the apple, then Pippin started to get out a piece of walnut when Merry stuck his hand in the way and stopped him.
"Save it, Pip. Make it last awhile."
Pippin looked up and saw the odd, serious expression had returned to his cousin's face. "Right! Of course, save some for Second Yule," he said. Pippin looked down again as he tied the handkerchief back up.
"And there is this."
Pippin looked up and saw that Merry was holding out his hand again, closed with the palm down as though ready to drop something.
"Hold out your hand, Pippin," Merry said. As Pippin did so, Merry continued, "It's nothing much. I am afraid you will think it silly. I . . . I got to thinking that we might. . ." Merry was having trouble with his words. He wanted this to come out right, and they were running out of time. "We might get separated or . . . or . . . something, and I wanted you to have something of mine. A gift for Yule, you understand. You would have been getting a good many gifts if you were home, but I haven't anything much with me, so . . . here." Merry let something lightweight and soft fall into Pippin's hand.
Pippin looked carefully at the small white square of cloth that rested on his palm. Two edges of the cloth were hemmed but two were raw edges where the small piece had been cut from something larger. Then he saw it, in white thread finely embroidered on the white cloth, the initials MB. Pippin gently traced them with his finger tip.
"This is from one of those handkerchiefs that your Mum embroidered for you, isn't it?" Pippin said with awe in his voice.
"Yes," Merry answered, as he scrunched down to try to look at Pippin's face. He finally reached over and tucked a finger under his cousin's chin nudging him until he looked up. "You do not think it's silly of me, do you, Pip?"
"No, I do not!" Pippin said firmly as he leaned forward to hug Merry tightly. "It means you will not think me silly." Pippin pulled back and reached into his jacket pocket. "I will give it to you now, even though you should not really get your gift until second Yule, you being all grown up and all," Pippin said with a sly tone in his voice and a twinkle in his eyes. As Merry had, he held out his closed hand palm down and waited for Merry to place his open hand beneath before he let drop a small soft wad of fluff. Merry poked at the ball of fuzz. He saw it was threads, soft threads of grey, gold, brown and purple yarn. He looked wide-eyed into Pippin's shyly smiling face.
"I undid one of the tassels," Pippin said, his voice a soft whisper. He held up an end of his scarf to show the corner where a tassel was missing. "Because I thought we might get separated . . . or something . . . as you said. And I thought it might be a comfort . . ."
Merry's tight hug cut Pippin short, and for a few moments the two simply hugged each other.
"I got this from Sam," Merry said when they finally let go of each other. He held up a threaded needle for Pippin to see. "I thought I could sew the little bit to something, you know, so it won't get lost."
"A great idea, Merry!" Pippin said, suddenly cheerful. "I had wondered about that myself with the tassel but wouldn't have thought of sewing it!" Despite the cold he had started to unbutton his shirt as he spoke and now held back the left-hand side. "Here!" Pippin pointed to the inside of his shirt, "Sew it here, Merry."
With a few quick stitches the small piece of Merry's handkerchief was stitched to the inside of Pippin's shirt. The same was done with the tassel from Pippin's scarf in the same place on Merry's shirt. "Good Yule!" they said hugging once more, then gave each other a knowing look as they buttoned up their shirts. They heard the rest of the Fellowship stirring, and they got up to help break camp. Somehow, this night's march wouldn't seem as long or as dark.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.