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For Dreamflower, who had requested Pervinca and Everard's first Yule as Newlyweds.
Rated PG-13 for some innuendo.
In Times Old and New
Yule 1419 SR
“I never thought I’d be here.”
“No? It’s a fair sight better than last Yule.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I doubt that.”
“Sometimes I think you know me better than I know myself.”
“I’m just a lucky guesser.”
I take my head off Ev’s chest and narrow my eyes at him. Of course, he has that crooked little smile plastered over his face, and his eyes are laughing kindly at me. He does enjoy this, a little too much. He wants me to say the words, say them so he can respond and chase away my doubts. Instead, my fingers find one of his tender spots and pinch.
“Ow!” That wakes him up completely. He rubs where I had pinched him and frowns.
“Not as lucky as you think.”
I give him a quick kiss before I slip out of bed and hurriedly put on my robe. During last night’s activities, I had lost track of where my nightgown had gone, but I make sure to always leave my robe on the chair next to the bed. I tie the sash and sit at the vanity. Ev rolls onto his side and watches me as I began to brush the tangles out of my hair.
“Do you have to wear that? You know I love looking at you.” He never worries about saying what was on his mind. Most folk will say the same about me, and for the most part they will be right. There are some things though I like to keep to myself, but in the five weeks since we’ve been married, Ev has heard nearly all of those as well. I am constantly surprising myself with him. To think that only a couple of years before we had been sworn enemies is staggering.
I stop in mid-brush and meet his gaze, a curt response ready on my tongue. The look he is giving me makes me forget all verbal skills I had ever acquired in life. That look lights a fire under my skin. It can melt ice. My heart starts racing and I am tempted to forget hygiene and climb back into bed with him, which is clearly what he wants. I turn back to the vanity and commence brushing.
“You’re looking now, aren’t you?” I feel a little thrill of triumph that I manage to sound calm. I had been aiming for curt with a twinge of boredom, but under the circumstances, I will settle for calm.
Ev chuckles. That one little sound stokes the blaze under my skin to sizzling, the flames of which feel like fingertips caressing all the right places. Damn him. I had been told much about what married life would consist of, but no one had mentioned starting every morning with a tangle in the sheets. Five weeks. You’d think by now we’d be capable of walking past each other without the urge to do things to each other that up until now I hadn’t even imagined were physically possible, much less feel good. Oh, by the stars, how good they feel.
Our first month of marriage had been spent in a secluded hideaway spot, far away from the Smials and away from taunting young pranksters. That first week had been like a windstorm. How we survived it is beyond me. That we even remembered to eat is a miracle in itself. We had actually gone outside the second week, not that our activities changed all that much. We slept most of the third week, having exhausted ourselves beyond endurance during the previous fortnight. The fourth week, we had started making plans on what we will do to establish our new apartment at the Smials. It would have been be furnished by the time we got back, and all our things put where practicality dictated they should go, but it wouldn’t be home.
After a week being back, it still doesn’t feel quite like home. There have been more than a few occasions when I wanted to go to my parents’ apartment and crawl into my old bed, pretend I was tween again and everything made sense. We’ve had tea with at least half the Tooks already and plans to have tea with the other half next week. Everyone still seems amazed that Ev and I are together and married. Or rather, that I am married to Ev. There had never been any doubt that Ev would eventually settle down.
“Aren’t we going to meet Ferdi and Aidan to go hunting for the Yule log?” I ask, determined to keep my mind off, well, everything it seems determined to linger over, including Ev’s smoldering look.
“They’ll understand if we’re late,” Ev says. “Per.” He had told me once he calls me that because it reminds him of a contented cat. I feel like my whole body is purring and the way he says my name doesn’t help matters.
“What did you mean?”
He knows. He has to know. I swallow the lump in my throat that rises out of nowhere and attack my hair with renewed vigor. “We shouldn’t be late. We’ve been late every day this week.” The understanding smiles, the suggestive raising of eyebrows and the teasing whispers that greet us whenever we arrive somewhere late are starting to wear thin.
I finish with my hair, clip it back with the butterfly clips Ev had given me on his last birthday, and go to the washstand. I pour some water from the ewer and add a dash of scented oil. I undo the robe and pretend not to notice Ev watching me in the mirror. “You should be getting ready as well,” I say when I finish. I go to the wardrobe and dress, avoiding his gaze. If I look at him, if I even go near him, we will be late. We will be very, very late.
When I finish, I look at myself in the mirror, nod approvingly and turn away from the bed to head for the door.
“Per,” Ev says as I reach for the doorknob. “You look lovely.”
Damn him. My skin was tingling again. I know if I stand here long enough, he’ll get out bed, come behind me, brush my hair aside and kiss the back of my neck. I shiver but determinedly open the door. “Don’t dawdle, love.” There is no hope of sounding even close to calm now. “I’ll get a basket ready.” I slip outside into the parlor and close the door behind me. I lean against the door with a sigh of relief. Finally, we will begin a day like normal folk.
I wait until I hear the sounds of Ev shuffling around the room, then push myself off the door and go into the kitchen. I pack a basket with luncheon and make a quick first breakfast of eggs and ham with tea. By the time he emerges, fully dressed and presentable, I am calm once again and eager to go. Ferdibrand and Aidan had wanted to leave by eight. We will just make it if we eat quickly.
“Here you go.” I set our plates on the table and sit down. A few moments later, Ev joins me. He takes my hand as I reach for the sugar for the tea. I look up.
Ev isn’t one for deep thought, at least not this early in the morning, but he looks thoughtful now. He watches me for a few seconds, then asks, “Did I do something?”
“No,” I say, alarmed that he will even think that. Despite my greatest reservations, he has been a model husband, so far. “Why? Because we didn’t start the morning pawing at each other? I just wanted to get us going on time. You were the one jabbering on about the Yule log last night, how you, Ferdi, Aidan and Cedric would go every year since you were old enough.”
Cedric is a sore subject at times, and this seems to be one of them. He drops my hand and digs into his food without another word.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
Ev shakes his head. “Don’t be. You’re right. We shouldn’t be late.”
Our cousins Ferdi and Mora are already at the barn, waiting for us. We see Aidan Chubb and his betrothed, Sapphire Banks, coming over the hills from the east door of the Smials. We reach the barn at the same time. Ferdi and Mora have prepared the cart and pony and gathered the necessary tools already. Sapphire carries a basket, this one containing elevenses, and Aidan carries the water bottles. Ev has brought a bundle with him as well. Whatever is in it, he’s been working on it for a week. We add our supplies to the cart and Ferdi takes the pony’s reins.
It had snowed earlier in the week and here and there white patches still stand despite the mild heat of midwinter. A thin frost covers the rest of the land, but this quickly melts as we walk and the sun rises higher. By the time we reach the Woody End, all hint of winter is gone.
We had talked the night before about where we will hunt for the Yule log and quickly decided on the small glen where we had been waylaid by ruffians earlier in the year. I had expected Ev and Ferdi to reject the idea out of hand, but seeing the determination on Mora’s face, wee Cedric asleep on her shoulder, they had both given in far quicker than I would have thought possible. Apparently, Mora isn’t the only one who needs to see that glen.
Mora and Sapphire walk arm-in-arm, and Aidan walks beside Sapphire. Ferdi and I walk on either side of Ev. I take Ev’s hand and he squeezes it gently. This morning’s earlier awkwardness is forgotten, at least for now. I know better than to hope Ev won’t come back to it eventually.
Ferdi concentrates on the ground. His limp is more pronounced in the cold morning air, but as the day warms it slowly improves. He never complains about it and enjoys showing off his scars to the little ones. We had been afraid he would lose the foot after getting caught in one of the ruffian’s claw traps. We had been a long way from help and by the time we got him to a healer, the wound had developed an infection. The healer had been competent and saved the foot, and her apprentice had taken sweet on Ferdi. They corresponded at least five times a week. After the Battle of Bywater, Merry and Pippin had organized troops of volunteers to go through all the woods and copses, looking for traps. They had found many, but there is always the possibility that they overlooked some. No one goes into the woods without a walking stick any more.
We are all full of energy for the day’s hunt and in good spirits despite our destination. As we walk over the hills, Ferdi starts to sing. It is one of Bilbo’s songs and has always been a favorite. The rest of us soon join in, our voices lifting to the skies.
Here we go a rambling
Beyond it lies unending Blue
Along the way we meet some friends
To journey’s end we onward stride
Nearby the Lonely Mountain sits
Up in the air worm flies and roars
Now back to home I gladly go
“In bed I snore!” Aidan and Sapphire repeat with giggles.
“Except it wasn’t the Blue no more for Bilbo, was it?” Mora says. “He went off again, didn’t he? I can’t imagine why.”
“Nor can I,” Ferdi says. “Pippin told me that for everything we went through, out there the battles were ten times worse, if not more. Bilbo must have been mad to want to go through all that again.”
“Didn’t Pippin also say that Bilbo’s been living with the Elves all these years?” Sapphire asks.
“I can’t imagine he’s still alive. He’d be as old as the Old Took!” Ev says.
“Then so he is,” I say. “Pippin wouldn’t lie.”
“Oh, I know that well enough,” Ev says with a shake of his head. “I just can’t imagine it.”
“Another song then,” Mora says. “No point wasting time on things we can’t imagine, after all.”
We each take turns coming up with walking songs and within an hour-and-a-half we reach the wood’s edge. The sun is climbing, shortening the shadows of the trees. The frost on the hillsides is melted now and the wet ground ends just a few feet into the forest. The ground is littered with leaves, hiding the condition of the road beneath and making walking even more difficult for Ferdi.
Mora hands out the walking sticks from the cart and we continue onward. The glen is another hour’s walk into the woods, just a few yards off the road. We continue singing, enjoying the crispness of the air and the chirping of the birds in the boughs overhead. When we reach the glen, Ev clears the ground near a tree and tethers the pony to a low branch. He takes his secret bundle and tucks it under his arm. We look around the glen, so tranquil and serene. It’s no more than ten yards wide and in the center, the grass shows bright under the cool winter sun.
“This is it?” Mora asks, looking around the peaceful patch of green. I can see her trying to imagine how it must have been that night when we were ambushed, but she can never imagine it, not really. It’s best that way.
Sapphire and I stand on either side of Mora as she continues her slow observation of the glen. I place an arm about her shoulders, and Sapphire takes her hand.
“This is it,” I say.
Ev, Ferdi and Aidan stand in a semi-circle around us. We stand in silence for several moments, Mora and Sapphire lost in their contemplations while the rest of us remember that fateful day. We let the calm surroundings quiet our turmoil. There are birds calling and small game scampering under brush. The sun now tops the trees, shining its gentle glow over the glade, and a cool breeze sweeps through, lifting the curls from our faces, drying sweat and easing spirits.
At last, Mora takes a deep breath and steps forward. “Where did it happen?” she asks. She already knows how it happened, had heard how one of the ruffians had come from behind the trees and clubbed Ced over the head before we even knew what was happening; we hadn’t expected the men to walk so quietly. She had been there when we brought Ced back unconscious. She had held his hand all through the night, fighting sleep, waiting for him to wake up. Instead, he had passed on while she was dozing and she woke to find his hand cold in hers.
Ev, Ferdi, Aidan and I look around the glen, trying to remember how we had been positioned that day. I had been looking to the east. Ev and Aidan had been going through their packs, looking for something to munch on. The others who had been with us were either tending the ponies or watching in the direction of the road. Cedric had been to my left, slipping off to relieve himself behind some trees.
I point. “There.”
“You’re sure?” Aidan asks.
I nod. “I’m sure.”
We go to the spot and Mora kneels, reaching into to her dress pocket to take out several small stones. She piles them into a cairn and picks up a handful of dirt, which she pours into a small memory box. She snaps the lid shut and stands, with the help of Ferdi and Aidan. Ev steps forward next and unwraps his mysterious bundle. It is a Yule wreath and he places this next to the cairn. He steps back again and I take his hand. He leans against me and I can feel the small tremor running through him. I had never cared for Cedric much. He had been a pompous lout for most of his life and only in the last year or so of his life did he manage to turn into a halfway decent fellow, most of that Mora’s doing, but he had been a steadfast friend to Ev, Ferdi and Aidan. Had he the choice, he would have gladly taken that blow on purpose to give us the few seconds we needed to ready our weapons. He would have had no regrets over what happened that day, and if we have any regrets, it’s only that he never got to see his son.
Mora wipes her tears away and sniffs back any more from coming. “We may as well eat now before we start the search,” she says and we return to the cart to do just that.
After elvenses, the lads take up the saws and axes and we head out into the woods, walking sticks in hand, to hunt for the perfect tree for a Yule log. We reminisce about previous Yule logs and some of our favorite Yule memories as we stroll through the woods. We’re soon laughing again, and Ferdi starts singing a Yule carol. We sip at our bottles when our throats get dry and when we come a tree that looks promising, we circle it and vote yes or no.
Finally we find a tree we’re all happy with and we all take turns on the two-handle saw. We fell it within a half-hour and we all take up axes to clear the branches. We then saw the trunk into thirds and Ferdi walks back to the glade for the pony and trap. When he gets back, we load the cart with the trunk pieces and branches, then Ev takes the shovel, digs a deep hole and plants a seed. He covers the hole up and we lean against the tree stump to rest.
We eat luncheon, then head back to the road. I start the caroling this time, and once we go through our favorites, we begin telling Yule stories. Ev tells one of Bilbo’s old larks about dwarves and holly, and Ferdi tells the one about The Scrooge of Tookland who was visited by three fairies on Yuletide Eve. Then Mora recites an old Took poem. It is told on Yule every year but no one knows quite why, as the poem has nothing to do with the holiday. It’s simply tradition.
In times of old there was a lad
In times of old a lass he found
In times of old they were be wed
In times of old his years grew long.
Songs there were sung of their love true
Soon enough, we return home and the ostlers come to unload the cart. We go inside to help with whatever preparations still remain for tonight’s Yule ball. The lads are soon drawn away to help chop wood and set up the tables and chairs in the ballroom, while Mora, Sapphire and I are directed by my mother to string the ribbons in the dining room and foyers. The work lasts us until tea. I manage to sneak off to my apartment for a couple of quiet hours.
I get out my sketchbook, which I haven’t touched in months, and begin to draw lines absently. Slowly, a picture begins to take form, a lass sitting alone under a tree. Smiling wistfully, I put a book in her hand and add a lad standing in front of her, a bouquet of flowers clutched behind his back - the day Ev declared himself to me. I still have the card that came with the bouquet. “To the loveliest shrew I ever knew,” it reads. I remember sitting there, stumped and speechless as he walked away, thinking he had made the greatest mistake of his life. It had taken me a whole five minutes to snap out of my stupor and chase after him, eventually catching up with him in the tunnels and dragging him into a sitting room to demand what he meant. I accepted his intention that same day, and my stomach has been a knot of nerves ever since. The last year fighting the ruffians hadn’t helped.
Finally, it’s time for dinner. Ev finds me at the head table and leans over my chair to kiss the top of my head before he sits down. He looks as exhausted as I feel, but he’s smiling.
“Good day?” I say.
“Very,” he says. He reaches a hand under the table and squeezes my knee. “I saw Pippin. He wants me to help with lighting the Yule log.”
“Just don’t set the Smials ablaze,” I say.
“Always so encouraging,” he jokes.
“What can I say? I have this annoying knack for self-preservation. I can’t say the same for you,” I jibe in return.
“Nor can anyone else, after marrying you.”
I know he doesn’t mean it the way I hear it, but I jerk my knee away from his touch before I can think about it. “My point exactly,” I say, a little forced, and kiss his cheek.
After dinner is the Yule ball. It is wonderful to see Pippin on stage, playing his lute, when last year we had thought to never see him again. Mora comes over with wee Cedric. Already, he’s a split image of his father, another heartbreaker in the making. He’s passed around from one set of arms to another and by nine o’clock, he’s fast asleep on his grandfather’s shoulder. Ev and I dance around the ballroom floor to all our favorite songs, switching with Aidan and Sapphire from time to time, and even Ferdi is able to manage the slower songs.
As midnight grows closer, the band finishes the last song and we separate into one of three large foyers. I go with Ev to the main foyer, and soon my dad and Pippin are there with us. Ev leaves my side to stand with my father and brother at the hearth. The Yule log sits in its grate, covered with dried flowers. Pippin stands at least half a head taller than Ev, who up until a few months ago had been the tallest hobbit in the Tooklands. Pippin gives Ev a nod and Ev readies the striker and flint.
The lighting of the Yule log is the same every year, but even so this year is special in a way it had never been before. We’ve seen how quickly we can lose our freedoms, and how easily we can take them back. If not for the last year of Troubles, we will not now know how truly blessed we are.
Pippin steps forward but what he says is not the traditional speech. “The third age of this world is coming to its close. The Dark Lord has been defeated and the King has returned to his throne in the South. Many lives were lost in the battle to rid Middle-earth of the Menace and now for the first time there is indeed Hope for the future. May the days of peace be unending.”
Only a handful of us really understand what he said, but we all clap. I see many folk exchanging glances, clearly wondering what is coming next. Then Pippin nods at Ev again and I pause in mid-clap.
Ev steps forward next to Pippin. It is tradition for the Took or his heir to give the Yule speech. For Ev to say it instead means that Da and Pippin recognize him as a leader in equal standing. I can see that Ev is nervous, though no one else will be able to notice. He cannot possibly forget the words, but I find myself holding my breath all the same.
“We gather this night to give thanks for the old year and to welcome the new. For this year, we give thanks for the many blessings we have enjoyed, and we go into the new year with the remnants of the old.” He lets out a small puff of air, then turns and lights the fire to much applause. The flame catches on the dried flowers and slowly spreads to the log. Within minutes, the flame is high in the hearth and the room is filled with the scent of the flowers.
I throw my arms around Ev’s neck and reach up on my tiptoes to kiss him. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I did tell you,” he says with a smirk. “Always so surprised.”
I kiss him again and snatch Pippin’s shirtsleeve as he’s walking by. “Thank you, Pip.”
Pippin just shrugs. “Don’t mention it. Merry Yule, Vinca.”
“Merry Yule, Pigeon,” I say. It’s an old nickname he used to deplore, but he grins now and kisses my cheek. Then he and Da are off to the other foyers to the light the logs there.
“So now what?” I ask Ev.
“Sleep,” he answers, yawning. He slips an arm around my waist and we head for our apartment, eager for bed.
I sleep soundly through the night and wake early the next morning to find the spot beside me empty. I sit up instantly and look around the room, but Ev is not there. “Ev! Ev!”
“I’m here!” his voice comes from the parlor.
I sink back into the mattress and wait. A few minutes later, he enters the room with a tray in hand. He’s wearing his robe and seems to have come from the main kitchens, where he had wrested us a couple of pieces of Yule cake and a tea service. A small box sits on the tray as well. He puts the tray on the bed beside me, takes off his robe and slips back into bed. He hands me the box.
“Merry Yule, my love.”
Grinning, I untie the lace and open the box. The inside is stuffed with shredded, used parchment. I raise my eyebrows at him. He grins in return. I turn the box over and shake the box until it’s empty then dig through the parchment pieces until I find it. It’s a small pendant of colored glass, shaped like an hellebore blossom, my favorite flower and the ones Ev had given me the day he told me he loved me. He picks up the lace, slips the pendant through one end and ties it around my neck. He kisses my shoulder, sending shivers down my spine.
“My turn,” I say. I reach into the drawer of the beside table and hand him a wrapped parcel, the size and shape of a small, thin book.
He tests the weight before he unwraps the cloth. It’s a sketch I had drawn last year when we were first courting. He had fallen asleep under one of the birch trees outside, and he had looked so handsome that the image stays with me even now.
“You’re such pleasant company when you’re asleep,” I say.
He laughs. “I love you.” He cups my face, his expression so tender I feel like crying. “So much.”
“Fool of a Took.”
“A fool for you, happily. Here.”
He hands me a piece of cake and we eat and drink our tea. He puts the tray on the bedside chair after we’re done, then lifts his eyebrows in question. “Are we at risk being late anywhere today?”
Only that isn’t the question that he’s asking. I sigh. “I suppose we’re not.”
“Do you want to tell me what you meant then, about never thinking you would be here? Here with me or here at all?”
“We weren’t exactly tween sweethearts,” I say, stalling.
“You know I don’t care about what everyone else says, right?”
“That you deserve better?”
“You’re the best I could ever wish for. You believe that don’t you?”
“Most of the time I do. Sometimes I wonder though, why me? You could have picked any lass and she’d have said yes in an instant.”
“I wanted you. You challenge me and excite me, and I never know what to expect from you. You’re my match, Per.” He thumbs the tear the falls from my eye and kisses my cheek. “Do you think I never wonder why you chose me?”
“I didn’t exactly have any other prospects,” I say. He gives me a half-smile. I swallow and clear my throat. It is true enough, but that isn't the reason and we both know it. "I chose you because you’re sweet and you’re kind, and you’ve never let me down. You’re my match.”
“Good. Then let’s have no more doubts between us.”
“No more doubts.”
“Perfect.” He kisses my lips. “Now, I want to see you wearing your pendant.”
“I am wearing it.”
“Only your pendant.” He pins me down with a smoldering look and kisses me again.
My body starts humming and I know already we’re going to be very late for first breakfast, possibly even second. Damn him.
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