Make the Season Bright
ErinRua and Sevilodorf
From "The Ring Goes South"
For many sunless days an icy blast came from the Mountains in the east, and no garment seemed able to keep out its searching fingers. …They slept uneasily during the middle of the day, in some hollow of the land, or hidden under the tangled thorn bushes that grew in thickets in many places. In the late afternoon, they were roused by the watch, and took their chief meal: cold and cheerless as a rule, for they could seldom risk the lighting of a fire.
1 Yule 3018 SR
A jingly thump awoke Frodo from a pleasant dream of his Aunt Dora Baggins urging him to take his fill of ginger snaps and mince pie.
"Clod foot! You've gone and woke him up, Pippin." Merry stepped over his cousin's outstretched legs and nodded to Frodo. "Evening, Frodo."
Frodo muttered a reply and jerked his blanket free of Pippin's fumbling attempts to untangle himself from Sam's cooking utensils. Wrapping his blanket over his head, he attempted to return to sleep. Aunt Dora's baked goods, dream though they might be, would certainly be better than the cold, cheerless meal he'd soon eat. But Sam's voice, laced with irritation, put paid to his hope of snatching a few more winks.
"If he's made a dent in my best kettle, I'll give his share of…"
With a groan, Frodo opened his eyes in time to see Sam drop an armload of firewood and clap his hands over his mouth. As two of the sturdier logs landed on his toes, Pippin yelped and fell to land atop Sam's pack once again.
"His share of what?" Frodo could not resist teasing.
"Never you mind, Mister Frodo." Sam pulled Pippin to his feet, and set about starting a fire. "You'll find out soon enough. Strider said we might have a bit of a fire and a late start. So Master Merry and I thought it'd be best to go ahead with the celebrating tonight. Given we don't know for certain if we'll be havin' a fire tomorrow."
"Celebrate?" Frodo asked.
"Here's part of it, Sam," Merry said, pulling a paper wrapped bundle from the depths of his pack.
"And I've got the other. If Mister Pippin hasn't squashed it all to jelly."
"Just what is it you've got, and what are we celebrating?" Frodo demanded.
"His brains have turned to icicles," Pippin said with a grin. "And Bilbo gave me a bundle too. So we'll have plenty to share with the Big Folk."
"You've all determined to drive me mad," Frodo declared.
"Now, Mister Frodo," Sam replied patiently. "It's only a few special treats Mister Bilbo gave us. Onliest thing is I'm wondering if we should eat them all, or save some for another day."
"Now," said Pippin immediately. "They'll only spoil if we wait."
Merry looked thoughtful, then said, "Now. Shared nine ways, there'll be little enough for each of us anyway. And we've got the fire tonight."
"Splendid!" cried Pippin, beaming from ear to ear. "Why, I suppose even Strider can't say no to chestnuts and nibbles."
"Indeed he won't."
The somber voice startled all four hobbits, and they looked up to see Strider emerging from the gathering twilight. Pippin's smile faltered until he saw the twinkle in the Ranger's eyes.
"Well, that settles it," declared Pippin. "Come, Sam, let's have ourselves a bit of Yule."
Frodo could not help a weary smile as he watched Pippin eagerly get in Sam's way. Between swats at the youngest hobbit's fingers, Sam arranged the makings for their meager celebration: a bag of chestnuts, a package of ginger snaps - "Baked by the elves at Rivendell, Mister Strider " - and last but not least, an odd little metal contraption with a detachable handle.
Strider disappeared back into the dark, presumably to keep watch and possibly to consult with Gandalf on tomorrow's march. Moments later, a tromping of heavy feet announced Boromir's return. The Steward's son appeared from the dusk, his brawny arms laden with a bundle of firewood nearly as large as two hobbits wrapped together, which he dropped with a great, woody clatter.
"Well!" the tall man said, as he dusted off his hands. "What have we here?"
"A chestnut roaster," said Sam, frowning as he attempted to thread the handle onto the flat metal pan.
"A what?" Laughter rang in Boromir's reply, and he flung himself down to sit. "Now that's something I'd never expect to see out here."
"But we are speaking of hobbits," a new voice said, and Legolas next appeared, setting down his firewood even as mirth danced in his clear eyes. Straightening, the elf added, "And we know that no sensible hobbit fares into the wild unprepared."
Gimli's deep voice huffed with laughter as he dropped another bundle of wood and gently took the roaster and its handle from Sam's hands. Squinting at the contraption and muttering something about the quality of the metal hinge, the dwarf deftly twisted the handle into place.
"Now, then," chided Sam, accepting the roaster from Gimli with a nod of thanks. "There's no need to poke fun. After all, just because we're cold and tired and the legs run half off us doesn't mean we have to forget where we came from."
"Besides," said Merry, "it's Yule, and what's Yule without chestnuts?"
Sighing, Pippin propped his chin in his hand. "Not as good as a Yule with hot cider and mince pie and a mug of beer at The Green Dragon. But it's better than no Yule at all."
Frodo laughed, the sound and sensation a rarely refreshing feeling. "Chestnuts it shall be. Sam, do hand me the ginger snaps and a plate, and I shall serve."
"Oh, no, Mister Frodo!" cried Sam. "Why -."
"Hush you, Sam," said Frodo gently. "It's been too long since I've played the host for friends."
Thus, while Sam prepared the chestnuts, Frodo carefully drew the only-somewhat-broken biscuits from their wrapping and arranged them prettily for serving. How their rich fragrance rose to tease his sense, even now, cold and so far from home. If he but closed his eyes an instant, he could imagine the merry hearths of home and voices singing cheer in the lanes, whilst clear stars danced and hobbit cheeks glowed with good spirits. If only...
He blinked alert to see Legolas crouched beside him, fair face gone sober with concern.
"I'm sorry, Legolas. I fear I'm wearier than I thought. Here, let me set these out for everyone."
A poor sort of gift it seemed, a single plate of trail-worn biscuits for nine hungry mouths, when by rights there should be a feast that filled the tables to groaning. Yet all politely partook, nibbling with the cautious enjoyment of people who knew not when such pleasure might come again. Merry briefly left to carry a portion out to Strider and Gandalf on watch.
"Elvish baking?" asked Boromir, holding the remnant of his treat for study. "I would not imagine the elves troubling themselves with so homely a thing."
"Well now," said Sam, "I don't know how elves do at home, but Lord Elrond's folk baked these from Mr. Bilbo's very own recipe. He wanted them sent along special just in case."
Laughing, Legolas asked, "In case of what? In case we were starved and perishing in some desolate place, and only ginger biscuits could save us?"
"There you go again, sir," fretted Sam with a frown. "You really oughtn't -."
"Oh, now." Chuckling, Legolas favored Sam with a smile. "If we cannot laugh at misfortune or its threat, what good is laughter at all?"
Sam pondered and Pippin chuckled, while Frodo caught Merry's eye and smiled. Sam then nodded, and gave the chestnut roaster a shake in the coals.
"That's not so bad, I suppose," he said.
"Of course not!" said Merry. "Besides, my old gran always said that ginger snaps smell like home. A hobbit is never but a sniff away from where he belongs."
The conversation swiftly turned to other gastronomical winter delights, but Frodo, for his part, only half-listened, staring sleepy-eyed into the dance of the flames. After a time, he realized Sam had pulled the chestnut roaster from the fire and set the pan to cool, much to the eager anticipation of Merry and Pippin. They glanced up as Strider and Gandalf appeared in the fire's light, the fading glow of twilight giving way to twinkling stars above their heads.
"Look, Gandalf!" exclaimed Pippin. "We're having roasted chestnuts."
"Indeed." Gandalf's eyes twinkled as he bent his knees and sat, organizing himself comfortably before setting his pipe in his teeth. "It is a wise fellow who plans ahead for such a treat on a chilly night like this."
Sam's cheeks grew even rosier as he set the chestnuts, now cool enough to touch, upon a plate. "Well, we've more, so I'll just set those to roast whilst you all start with these. Mind now, they're hot!"
A brief quiet descended while various fingers busied themselves with peeling the nuts from their hulls. As Frodo bit into the firm, warm flesh, the sweet flavor seemed to warm him through and through.
"It tastes like home."
Frodo looked up with a start as he realized Boromir had spoken, the man slumped in a reflective pose, an elbow on his knee, as he looked at the half-eaten chestnut in his grasp.
"Why, yes," said Sam. "Yes, I suppose it does."
Frodo imagined he felt a sort of group sigh pass among them, as each contemplated things far away. Even Strider, sitting silent in the shadows with only the glow of his pipe to show his whereabouts, seemed lost in pensive thought.
"Then I know what we should do," said Frodo, and he smiled as the others looked at him. "As we have no Yule gifts to give, I think we should each tell a story."
"Splendid!" said Merry. "What sort of story should it be?"
"A good story," said Frodo. "Something happy and cheering that makes you smile."
"Does it have to be a story about the teller?" asked Pippin.
"No," Frodo replied with a smile. "Just any story you know or have heard that feels good to tell it."
"I think that's an excellent idea," said Legolas.
"A most admirable idea," Gandalf seconded.
"Who shall begin it?" asked Boromir.
"I will," Gandalf said, and puffed his pipe. "I think I shall tell a tale about Radagast the Brown, and a certain pig at acorn time."
Thus, Gandalf began to speak in familiar storyteller's tones that carried his listeners far away. Though Frodo felt the cold and a threat of frost whispering at his back, the campfire held the night at bay. What a simple, wondrous thing it was to simply sit in the warmth of a fire with friendly voices at hand, an embrace of comforting sound.
And when the tales were done, Pippin unwrapped the last small parcel, to reveal nine sprigs of holly and mistletoe tied in bright red ribbon.
"It's nothing fancy, mind," said Pippin, suddenly bashful as all eyes turned to him. "But some say holly and mistletoe will keep off evil things. Ill luck and whatnot. You don't suppose it's a silly idea, do you?"
He asked of the group at large, but seeing the warmth in Gandalf's eyes and the twinkle in Strider's, Frodo answered for them all.
"No, dear cousin, it's not silly at all. I think it's a wondrously thoughtful thing."
Thus, when they fared forth into the wilds once more, with no hope of Yule feasts or Yule logs in sight, each of the Fellowship wore a sprig of mistletoe and holly, cheerily tied in bows of crimson ribbon.