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I think of this story as AU. It doesn't quite fit into my usual timeline, but I had to fit in all of the elements. I hope you enjoy:
YULE AT GREAT SMIALS
For the first time in many years there was a certain sense of lightness about the Great Smials at Yuletide.
The prospect of a grand wedding in the Southfarthing among her Clayhanger and Bracegirdle relations--her great-niece, Aubrieta Clayhanger was to marry the heir of the Hornblower clan, young Tibald--had lured Lalia out of the Great Smials for the first time in years, and she had commandeered her son, the Thain, to accompany her.
Word of her departure, even though temporary, quickly spread through the Shire.
The knowledge that Lalia would not be in attendance at the Great Smial's Yule festivities had lured many who had avoided them for years to take advantage and attend.
Among those who received word were Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
"Frodo, my lad, I've a letter from your Uncle Saradoc and Aunt Esmeralda! It seems they will not be at Brandy Hall for Yule this year!"
"What do you mean, Uncle Bilbo?" Frodo was surprised. They had always made it their custom to visit Buckland and celebrate Yule at Brandy Hall. Frodo quite looked forward to the visit with his Brandybuck cousins.
"Lalia is not going to be at the Great Smials during Yule! Paladin and Eglantine are going there this year, and Saradoc and Esmeralda will be joining them."
"Oh." Frodo was disappointed.
Bilbo grinned. "Since my main reason for avoiding the Great Smials is not there, I see no reason that we should not also join them there this year."
"Oh, Uncle Bilbo! Thank you!"
"No need for thanks, Frodo--it will make a nice change for all of us. I do think that things may be rather crowded there, but it will be nice to see some of my Tookish connections again."
In Buckland, at Brandy Hall, the Master and Mistress of Buckland had taken the news that their son and his family would be going to the Tooklands for the holiday with equanimity.
"After all," said Rory, "you've made your wife's brother and his family travel here every Yule for years. It's only fair to have turnabout for once."
"We'll miss you, son," said Menegilda, "but I'll be sure to save one of my fruitcakes for your return."
"Well, son," Rorimac asked his son, "you do have my gift to your brother-in-law well packed, so that it will not jostle?"
"Of course, Da," Saradoc grinned. "Two casks of the Hall's finest apple brandy! Just the thing for making a fine punch!"
Bilbo and Frodo were busy packing for their journey to Tuckborough. "Do you think the weather will hold, Uncle Bilbo?" Frodo asked. "After all, we wouldn't want to be caught by rain or snow before we get there."
Bilbo chuckled. "The Gaffer assures me that the weather will hold--cold, but mild and sunny--for a day or so at least. And he always knows--feels it in his bones, he says."
Frodo began to buckle his pack. "You never feel the weather in your bones, Uncle Bilbo, and you are a lot older than the Gaffer."
"I'm uncommonly lucky, Frodo my lad! I am quite sure that I take after the Old Took! It's possible that I may even outlive him."
Frodo took a deep breath. Uncle Bilbo talked about such things so casually, but he didn't like to think about it. Yes, his older cousin might be planning to outlive the Old Took, but there was no guarantee he'd live another week. Life was unpredictable, as he knew all too well. Out loud he merely said, "I sincerely hope you do, Uncle Bilbo. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Bilbo smiled at him. He knew what Frodo was thinking, but he was determined not to allow the mood to get serious. "Well, you'll not be finding out anytime soon, my lad! Now, are you all packed? If you are finished, we can be off after second breakfast."
But just then there was a smart rapping at the door. Bilbo sighed. "Frodo, would you answer the door? I don't think it is the S.-B.s; they were off to the Southfarthing for the holidays, and to attend a wedding. I'll go put the kettle on for our breakfast tea." Bilbo headed to the kitchen while Frodo went to answer the door, which was being rapped upon again.
Frodo opened the door, and then his jaw dropped at the sight of the visitor. "Gandalf!" He grinned, and moved to embrace the unexpected guest.
The wizard bent down and took Frodo into his arms. "Frodo! It's very good to see you again! And where is that rascally Uncle of yours?"
But just then Bilbo emerged from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel.
"Gandalf! Come in, come in! You are just in time to join us for second breakfast!"
"Second for you, perhaps, Bilbo, but a first for me. I've not broken my fast yet this morning--I was looking forward to your hospitality, and did not wish to blunt my appetite before I had a chance to sample your cooking!"
They went into the kitchen, and Gandalf sat down next to the table and drew out his pipe. As he lit it, he noted the packs by the door. "Are you planning on going somewhere?" he asked, with a slight note of disappointment.
"We are going to the Great Smials for Yule. You are more than welcome to come with us," said Bilbo with a grin.
Gandalf gave a derisive bark of laughter. "You think to cozen me! You are no fonder of Mistress Lalia than I am! She would have apoplexy if I were to show up there for the Yuletide festivities!"
Frodo, who was setting the table, grinned. "Ah, but Mistress Lalia is not going to be there! She and Thain Ferumbras are spending Yule in Longbottom this year!'
Gandalf's eyes widened in astonishment. "Bilbo! Is that so?"
"It most certainly is. Otherwise, *I* would be going to Brandy Hall this year, as usual."
"Hmm…" Gandalf stroked his beard, and looked thoughtful.
"Uncle Sara and Aunt Esme and Merry will be there!" said Frodo encouragingly.
"It *has* been a while since there have been fireworks at the Great Smials. Tooks were once rather fond of them…"
Bilbo grinned, as he stirred up the mushrooms and taters in the skillet.
"Oh, do say you will come with us, Gandalf!" Frodo exclaimed.
The wizard puffed on his pipe for a moment or two, as Frodo stood impatiently, his hands clasped together. Gandalf blew out a red smoke ring, and then sent a red one up to link together with it. "Very well," he said. "I will accompany you. Are you set on walking, or would you mind riding in my cart?"
Frodo gave a joyous whoop, and leapt up as though he were much younger, and not a tween of twenty-six.
With both Thain and Mistress gone, Paladin suddenly found that his arrival at the Smials meant that all the servants looked to *him* to preside over the festivities--not something he'd wanted, but something he'd more or less anticipated.
The head housekeeper, Mistress Foxglove trotted alongside him and Eglantine. "I put you all in the South Wing, Mr. Paladin, in the apartment across from the Mistress's. Cook has the welcoming feast well in hand--we'd assumed you'd dine in the Main Hall this evening. Tomorrow we are expecting several more guests to arrive…"
Behind them, the children--Pearl, Pimpernel, Pervinca and little Peregrin--scurried to keep up. Peregrin, who was only five, and whose little legs were taking two steps to his sisters' ones, began to tire and to fall behind.
With a sigh, he stopped, and just stared, tears coming to his green eyes.
He watched them turn into another corridor in this confusing place, and he sat down on the floor, his back against the wall, and sniffled. Everyone forgot about him, he thought sadly. They all just left. He did not like this big place at all.
"Pippin!" He looked up to see his sister Pearl coming back, and he stood up.
"Pearl, I thought you forgotted me," he said sadly.
She scooped him up, and hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry, Pip! We thought you were right there with us."
"You went too fast." He snuggled his head against her shoulder, and sniffed. "This place is too big!"
She squeezed him. "I know, dear! It really is too big! But it will be fun here! There will be lots of cousins to play with!"
He looked up at her hopefully. "Merry?"
"Yes, Pip, Merry is coming! And so are Cousin Bilbo and Frodo!"
"Oh goody!" Pippin exclaimed. Just then, they caught up to the rest of the family, the housekeeper still talking.
Frodo was warmly ensconced between Bilbo and Gandalf on the large seat of the cart. The big brown cart-horse plodded patiently along the Post Road, which was a quicker route to Tuckborough than the regular road. The tweenager listened in fascination to his Uncle Bilbo and the wizard as they talked.
"No, Bilbo, I am afraid I have not heard from Balin for a few years now. But starting a new colony is a big enterprise--I am sure he has little time for personal correspondence."
"A dangerous enterprise, as well, Gandalf. I do remember that you were against his project."
Gandalf shrugged. "I was. Yet, still I must hope that I was wrong." He gave the reins a shake, and then said, "However, once it was learned I was heading in your direction, I was inundated with messages to you! Your other companions all wished me to bring their regards. I also bring greetings from Beorn, who remembers you fondly, and said he hoped you still remembered how to make his honeycakes; from King Bard of Dale; from the Elven-king of Mirkwood, Thranduil; and from Master Elrond himself, who wondered when you might be making another visit."
Frodo's ears twitched at that. Would Bilbo visit Rivendell again? If he did, perhaps he would take Frodo with him! How delightful!
They took the Post Road, which was quicker than the regular road, though not so well maintained. It had ruts along both sides, and grass had grown up in the centre in a few places. But Gandalf's cart was a sturdy one, and had no problems, though the road was bumpy enough.
Luncheon was eaten in a leisurely fashion, from a hamper which Bilbo had placed beside the seat, and then, when he and Gandalf had finished eating, and Frodo was filling up his corners with an apple, Gandalf and Bilbo drew out their pipes.
Frodo watched in delight as Bilbo blew out several perfect smoke rings, while Gandalf did the same--but his were nearly every colour of the rainbow!
They were only a few miles from Tuckborough where the Post Road joined to the main road, and they heard someone coming behind them. Gandalf pulled to the verge to allow the carriage to pass, and Frodo turned to look.
"Uncle Bilbo! It's the Brandybuck carriage!"
The carriage stopped alongside, and there were greetings exchanged. Merry was so excited to see Gandalf he was beside himself.
"Aunt Esme," said Frodo, laughing, "won't you let Merry ride with us the rest of the way?"
Merry's parents easily agreed to this, and soon Merry was transferred from the carriage to the cart, where he bounced up and down excitedly next to Frodo.
"Merry! Calm down! Or I'll think I have a Took in here instead of a Brandybuck!"
Merry blushed. "I'm sorry, Frodo--but I haven't seen Gandalf since I was seven!"
Gandalf turned his head, and looked at Merry from under the wide brim of his hat. "And I am pleased to see you again, Meriadoc!"
"Oh, Pippin is going to be so excited to meet you!"
"And who, pray tell, is Pippin?"
"He's our cousin Peregrin Took! He's only five, so he wasn't around the last time I saw you."
Gandalf turned an inquisitive eye to Bilbo. "Peregrin is Paladin and Eglantine's youngest. He's a real Took charmer, and a handful besides!" Bilbo answered.
"Mama--I mean Mother! Can't I please go wait for Merry and Frodo? I'll be good. I won't go in the road or anything! Pleasepleasepleaseplease?" Pippin was wringing his hands and bouncing on his toes.
"Not by yourself, Pippin." Eglantine glanced at the list she'd made of all she had to do for the day.
Pippin's eyes widened and filled with tears, and his lower lip began to tremble. He gave a sniff. Eglantine sighed. "Pimpernel--would you mind taking Pippin to the end of the drive and waiting with him for Merry or Frodo to arrive?"
Pimpernel sighed and shrugged. She stood up and held out her hand. "Come along, then, Pip."
Pippin snatched her hand and pulled her along, as he began singing "Merry, Merry's coming, and Frodo, too!" over and over again. As they left the room, Pimpernel closed the door just a little bit harder than was necessary, and Eglantine sighed. Pippin had a sweet childish treble, but that song was going to get somewhat tedious. Poor Pimmie.
The Brandybucks had allowed Gandalf's cart to take the road ahead of their carriage, and they followed close behind. Frodo and Merry were chattering excitedly. Neither of them had ever spent Yule at Great Smials before, and so they were wondering which of their cherished traditions would be different, and speculating over which cousins they would see there.
Soon they came around a curve, and into the lane that approached the huge ancestral dwellings of the Tooks.
Merry grinned and pointed. "Look!"
Frodo and Bilbo laughed outright and Gandalf chuckled at the sight--two young hobbits, a young lad and an older lass, sat on the top rail of the fence that bordered the drive. The two had clearly spotted their approach, for the lad attempted to jump down, and was firmly grabbed by the older.
"I think," said Merry dryly, "that Pippin's seen us."
Frodo answered in the same tone, "I think you are right."
They watched as Pippin, who was now standing on the second rail, and waving wildly, was being held back by Pimmie's hold onto the back of Pippin's jacket. They could hear him yelling their names even over the rumble of the cart's wheels, and as they grew closer, Frodo, Merry and Bilbo waved back.
"Hullo, Pip!" Merry called out.
Pippin gave another lunge, and suddenly Pimpernel lost her grip. She gave a little shriek, as Pippin flew from her grasp, and tumbled head over heels straight into the road, landing flat on his little back.
Merry gasped, and Frodo went pale, while Bilbo leaned forward tensely. But Gandalf quickly pulled his big horse to a sudden halt, by such a powerful yank on the reins that the poor animal actually danced back a few steps. Even more quickly than Merry and Frodo, he leaped from his seat, and swooped the little hobbit up in his arms.
Pippin, who had made not a sound other than an "oof" as the breath had been knocked out of him when he landed in the road, gazed in wide-eyed wonder at this amazing creature who had rescued him.
Finally he said "What are you?"
Gandalf chuckled. "I am Gandalf." He gazed back intently into the surprised green eyes, and said, "And you are a most remarkable Took, Peregrin."
Pippin leaned back in the huge arms, and studied the hairy face, like none he'd ever seen before, and stared into the twinkling dark eyes. Then he smiled, and leaned forward, hugging Gandalf about the neck. "I like you," he murmured against Gandalf's beard.
"And I like you, too, Pippin," he said.
In the meanwhile, Bilbo was trying to calm an hysterical Pimpernel who was alternately screaming, weeping, and scolding her brother, and Merry and Frodo were both trying to get hold of their cousin to examine him.
Gandalf looked down at them. "He is quite all right," he said firmly.
Pippin looked down and grinned. "Hullo, Merry! Hullo, Frodo! I was waiting for you!"
A few hours later the young hobbits were at supper in the main dining hall, sitting at the children's table with dozens of other young hobbits. By rights, Frodo should have been at the tween's table, but he had more fun with the younger ones, and he didn't know his Tookish agemates so well as he did the Brandybuck cousins of his generation. He had Pippin on his right, between him and Merry, and on his other side were Fatty Bolger and young Ferdibrand Took. There was much hilarity, and speculation about Yule gifts and what would be served at the feasts--but Frodo's bit of gossip had the whole table cheering:
"Well, Gandalf has said he has fireworks! I think he is going to set them off at the Yulenight bonfire."
As most of the other children began to talk excitedly about the treat, Pippin looked up at Frodo. "What are fireworks?"
Frodo was a bit taken aback. How to explain them?
"They are kind of like candles," said Merry, "only they make a loud noise!"
"Noisy candles?" Pippin's little face screwed up in an effort to picture that.
"They are lights, Pippin, like stars," said Frodo, "only they burst into colours, and look like stars falling from the sky like rain. And they do make noises--rather like thunder, but sharper."
Pippin bit his lip. "I don't like thunder."
"I don't either," said Fatty's little sister Estella, who sat across from them. She glanced at Pippin's plate. "Do you want your carrots?"
Pippin's eyes grew wide, and he didn't answer, but began eating them rapidly, as though he were afraid she would reach across the table and snatch them.
"You can have mine," Merry said gallantly. He'd already had three servings of carrots.
Estella gave him a gap-toothed grin, as he slid his plate over.
The next morning was the day before First Yule. The adults shooed the children off to breakfast, for they had preparations to make themselves. Pippin was bouncing along between Frodo and Merry, who had no trouble claiming him from his sisters, who wanted to go and play with their own friends.
He walked between them, skipping and bouncing, and sometimes hanging from their arms with his feet swinging off the floor. "Where are we going?" he asked.
"We're going to see the Aunties!" said Merry. "Aunt Primrose and Aunt Peridot!"
"Oh yes!" Pippin exclaimed. Primrose and Peridot were the older sisters of Paladin Took and Esmeralda Brandybuck, and great favourites of their various nieces and nephews. Frodo was also fond of them--they had been old friends of his parents, especially his mother, who had been their best friend.
When they arrived at the auntie's apartments, Frodo and Merry made their greetings politely, but Pippin leaped with arms outstretched to his Aunt Peridot, who caught him quickly, and bussed him on top of the head. "Hullo, Auntie Peri!"
"Good heavens, Pippin! Every time I see you, you have grown some more!"
"Come in, lads, come in! We thought you might like to help us make gingerhobbits this morning!" said Aunt Primrose.
While most of the preparations for the Yule feast was taking place in the larger communal kitchens of the Great Smials, most of the separate quarters belonging to various Tooks also had their own small kitchens. A good many treats would also be coming from those small kitchens as well.
The proposal was greeted with great enthusiasm by the lads. Soon all were in the small kitchen. Frodo helped to stir up the ingredients that Aunt Primrose measured out, while Merry rolled out the dough. Pippin, with a dishtowel tied around his neck, and ensconced on Aunt Peridot's lap, cut the figures out with the little tin cutter, and helped to decorate them with raisins. Aunt Peridot tried to make sure that most of the raisins went onto the gingerhobbits and not into Pippin--still, a good many of them *did* find their way into his mouth--as well as occasional pinches of the sweet dough.
Before long the little kitchen was filled with the spicy smell of gingerbread baking.
"Now, while they bake, why don't we get the washing up done?" asked Aunt Primrose. Pippin, still too small to help, began dancing around the table, singing a popular children's Yule song.
"Yuletide fun, Yuletide fun!
Pippin was too busy howling and rubbing his head where it hit the table.
"Hush, Pip, you're all right," Frodo said in a soothing tone.
"Am not!" Pippin sniffed. "It hurted my head."
Merry said in awed tones "That bowl would have landed right on him, Frodo!" He started to move to Frodo's side, so that he could check Pippin, but Primrose stopped him with a hand upon his shoulder.
"Move carefully, lads! All of you, out of the kitchen. We must clean up the pottery shards before anyone cuts a foot."
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Peridot, and she suddenly moved to snatch up a dishtowel, and retrieve the gingerhobbits from the oven--just in time, as a few of them had begun to scorch about the edges.
Frodo and Merry sat in the sitting room, and soon had Pippin calmed down. Merry managed to make him giggle, when he said "You have quite a goose-egg on your forehead, Pip!"
Pippin felt the bump gingerly. "A goose-egg! Will a goose come from my head?"
"No," said Frodo, dropping a kiss on top of the unruly curls. "But you are a silly goose! You know you should not be jumping about in a kitchen, Pip!"
Pippin looked up at Frodo from under his dark eyelashes, and said sadly, "But Frodo, I was so 'cited! All the happy just had to come out!"
As Frodo and Merry explained Pippin's bruise to their Aunt Eglantine, Bilbo stood by, listening and shaking his head, and chuckling. Gandalf bent down. "Is the little one often the subject of such mishaps?" he asked, remembering the fright of the previous day when the lad had tumbled so precipitously in front of his cart.
"Well, the lad tends to be a bit--er, enthusiastic, and it sometimes does have unfortunate results."
"So I see." The wizard watched as the child's family made over the lad, and his mother scolded him fondly. He was a sweet little chap, but he did seem to be quite a bundle of energy.
That night the Whitwell Tooks and the Brandybucks, along with Bilbo and Frodo, and Gandalf, took their supper in the Tooks' spacious quarters.
"These are the rooms that your parents had, Paladin and Esmeralda, back before Lalia became the Thain's Lady. I am surprised that they were given to you this visit," said Bilbo.
Paladin shrugged. "Lalia is not here, and I think that Mistress Foxglove and the other servants have taken it on themselves to show my family a lot more deference than we are entitled to, just to spite her."
Gandalf chuckled. "She is going to explode when she returns and finds *I* was here."
"I was sorry to find that one of the first things she did after Fortinbras passed to his rest, was to get rid of the special bed Great-grandfather Gerontius kept for you, Gandalf."
The wizard shrugged. "I am quite comfortable on my pallet in Bilbo's guest rooms. I spend most of my nights on the ground beneath the stars."
In a spirit of mischief, Bilbo raised his glass. "A toast!" he called.
All others at the table stared his way.
"A toast--to Mistress Lalia!" He grinned at the incredulous gasps around the table, and continued "to Mistress Lalia, I say, who had the good sense to take herself elsewhere this Yule!"
There was much laughter at this sally, and Saradoc said "Here! Here!" as he drained his glass.
Near the other end of the table, Pippin tugged on Frodo's sleeve. Frodo leaned down, and Pippin whispered, "Grown-ups are so silly sometimes."
Frodo giggled. Bilbo'd allowed him a small bit of wine, and he'd drained his own glass at the toast. "They are, sometimes, Pip," he whispered back.
The children awakened in much excitement the next morning! It was First Yule!
First breakfasts were taken hastily in the various rooms and apartments. Second breakfast would be a large affair, with all sorts of food on the sideboard, taken in the main hall. And then all the children would bundle up and go out in the wagons to bring the greenery home.
Merry was very excited. "In Buckland, we wait for the uncles to bring the evergreens home."
"I know," said Frodo. He was excited over this Tookish twist on the old custom of decking the halls.
Soon the waggons were pulled up in the drive--various older cousins and uncles were going along to supervise, while a large hamper of food for elevenses was loaded into each one, before the children scrambled into the backs of the waggons.
Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Pippin's sisters, along with the Bolger children, and Ferdibrand and Donnabella Took piled into the waggon driven by Cousin Ferdinand, Ferdi and Donna's father, and Cousin Odovocar Bolger, Fatty and Estella's father.
The children huddled together against the cold, Pippin snug in Frodo's lap, and sang merrily as they rode along. They sang seasonal favourites like, "All Day Long" "No Shorter Now Will Grow the Days" and "Come Now Good Hobbits" as well as some other non-seasonal songs like "Nob O' the Lea" and, of course, "One Hundred Apple Pies".
Soon the waggon came to a small track that led into a little wooded dell. A few minutes of riding beneath the arches of the trees led into a clearing surrounded by trees: oak, ash, rowan and holly, as well as some cedar and cypress. The children piled out to help with cutting the evergreens--the older children actually helping with cutting the branches, while the little ones ran about trying to find the best of the greenery.
"Look at all that mistletoe!" called Merry, pointing up into a rather large and imposing old oak. "There's such a lot of it! It's a shame we can't reach it!"
" 'Tis a shame," said Cousin Ferdinand. "But it is far too high!"
Frodo laughed. "No it isn't! I can climb up and fetch some!"
"Are you sure, Frodo?" Odovacar looked doubtful.
"Frodo's a good climber, Papa," said Fatty.
Frodo started to scramble up the tree, when he noticed that Pippin was right on his heels. "I want to help!" the little one exclaimed.
"I don't think so Pippin! It's far too high for you!"
The lad looked very crestfallen. He loved climbing in trees, but was only allowed to do that with Frodo. None of his other cousins liked to climb, and his parents had forbade him to climb trees alone as yet.
"I'll tell you what, Pip. If it's all right with Cousin Ferdinand and Cousin Odovacar, you can climb as high as that second branch there--" he pointed, and then I can pass the mistletoe down to you as I cut it."
Frodo looked up at the adults for permission. Odovacar looked doubtful, but Ferdinand who had done his own share of tree-climbing as a lad, nodded. "But mind you, Pippin, to stay on the branch that Frodo tells you to! And we will be right here beneath you!"
So Frodo climbed up, and took out his small pocket-knife. He was very proud of it. It had been a Yule gift from Bilbo the second year after he had been adopted. He carefully cut the mistletoe, and then passed the lighter branches down to Pippin, who then passed them along to the other children below him. Ferdinand and Odovacar kept themselves unencumbered, so they would be ready if Pippin should fall.
But once Frodo had enough of the mistletoe, he climbed back, and he and Pippin reached the ground without mishap.
"I think," said Odovacar, "that we have enough greenery for now! If we cut too much more there will not be room for ten little hobbits in the back of the waggon, and all the greenery as well!"
"And then--" added Ferdinand, "we shall have our elevenses!"
Soon all of the holly and mistletoe and evergreens were stowed, and the hamper had been brought out. There were two pottery jugs one of fruit juice, one of milk; and there were sandwiches: ham, cheese and chicken, as well as some mushroom pasties, and apples and pears for afters.
When they had finished eating, Odovacar and Ferdinand sat leaning against the waggon-wheels to have a post-prandial smoke, and the children began to run about playing "Hide and Seek".
The youngsters began to get winded, finally, and Ferdinand and Odovacar thought it might be time to head back, when they heard a yowl.
"That's Pippin!" cried Merry in alarm.
"Help!" came Pippin's voice, from a little thicket of holly on the south side of the clearing.
"Pip!' Frodo exclaimed. He and Merry rushed in the direction of the little one's voice, followed only a little slower by the others.
"Pip?" said Merry, looking about.
"I'm here, Merry! I just wanted to get some more holly! I'm stuck! It's all prickly!"
Merry sighed. "I'll come get you, Pippin," he said.
When the party returned to Great Smials, they were the last of the greenery-gatherers to arrive. While the older lasses and aunties swarmed over the waggon to take the leafy prizes away for making into garlands, wreaths and swags, Frodo handed Merry and Pippin over to their mothers to have their scratches attended to. Merry had only a few on his hands and arms, but Pippin had been scratched by the prickly bush everywhere he was not clothed: his face, hands, arms, and lower legs were criss-crossed with fine scratches!
Bilbo, who had met the waggon in hopes of bringing Frodo away to lunch with him, shook his head. "Pippin really is the most *accident-prone* child!"
"You have no idea, Uncle Bilbo," Frodo chuckled. "And it is never quite the mishaps you expect!"
A bit of soothing lotion fetched from the Great Smials healer, Mistress Lilac, soon had Merry and Pippin back among all the other children, and the day passed in a blur of feasting and playing with gifts--Pippin had a magnificent new hobby-horse, which he raced constantly up and down the corridors, squealing "Faster, Apple-pie! Faster!"
"Apple-pie?" Gandalf asked Bilbo in a murmured aside as he watched the pandemonium of young hobbits.
Bilbo shrugged, and gave the wizard a lopsided grin. "It's what he chose to name it! Can you imagine what he might name a *real* pony?"
Gandalf gave a great guffaw, drawing the stares of the hobbits who heard it.
Bilbo waved a hand. "The feasts have been splendid! We'll soon be lighting the Yule fire! The Sun's nearly gone to her bed!" He hiccupped lightly. "Would you care for some of the apple-brandy punch? It's made with some of Brandy Hall's finest!"
"Not quite yet, old friend," replied the wizard. "For soon I'll be setting off the fireworks, and that's an undertaking best done sober!"
Just then, Paladin gave the signal, and it was time for all the hobbits to troop back outside of the gaily decorated halls; for in Tookland the Yule-fire was lit outdoors, as a bonfire. Then at midnight, the Thain, (or this year, in the Thain's absence, Paladin) would take a coal from the fire indoors to light the Yule log in the big hearth in the main hall. This was different than it was done in Brandy Hall, and Merry was thrilled to be able to stay up so late.
Dusk had come, and Gandalf passed out some marvellous squibs and sparklers to the small fry, who ran about making spirals of light, as they waved the sparklers in the cold air. Then he went to the hilltop, where he had placed his fireworks, and began to set them off. He regretted that he had prepared no special rockets, such as he had at one time often set off for the Old Took at Lithe, but he had not really been planning this, and had to make do with what he had on hand.
The hobbits were entranced. It had been over a generation since Gandalf's fireworks had been seen in the Tooklands! Upturned faces "oozed" and "ahhed" as the rockets went up, bursting into colourful rains of red, blue and green; or exploding into golden flowers, which shot out streamers of fire, that spiralled to the ground with a shriek.
Pippin, who sat on Frodo's shoulders, was amazed. Not like candles, nor very like stars--they were not like anything he'd *ever* seen before. Though he had cringed at the first sharp report, he had soon grown used to the noise, which lit the sky like a lightning stroke, and was certainly as loud as thunder, but not nearly as scary and rumbly.
As the last rocket exploded across the sky, Paladin came forward to where the bonfire was set up, and at his signal all the hobbits gathered in a large circle to hold hands and to sing what was known as "The Tuckborough Carol":
"Light the Yule log, blazing cheer,
The day is short; the night is long.
We put up many stores ahead
The day is short; the night is long.
Though the world is dark and cold,
The day is short; the night is long.
Light the Yule log, blazing cheer,
Gandalf blinked back unaccustomed tears, and turned to Bilbo. "I do think, Bilbo, old friend, that I will have some of that apple-brandy punch now!"
Bilbo grinned and the two friends made their way to the punch bowl. The musicians were tuning up for dancing. Esmeralda was up on the bandstand with her fiddle, and Ferdinand with his Tookish pipes. Pearl had her tambour. Cousin Hildigar had his lute, and Aunt Peridot her lap-harp, and Uncle Everand had his drum. Soon music filled the Green Hills, and hobbits were dancing about the bonfire--and after a few cups of the punch, so was one wizard.
Many of the children were joining in the circle dances, while others were running about playing. Bilbo spotted Frodo dancing Circle of Joy, his favourite dance, with little Pervinca. Merry was wrestling with Fatty. Bilbo glanced around. Pimpernel was over there with some lasses, playing a clapping game. Paladin and Eglantine were surrounded by Tooks, all of them eager to tell him of how dreadful life in the Great Smials was under Lalia's firm thumb. Where was young Pippin?
Just then, Gandalf came to stand by Bilbo, slightly out of breath. "Bilbo, Bilbo--have I ever told you that hobbits are amaz--amazing creatures? Truly amazing. Have I told you that?"
"Gandalf! I do believe you are tipsy!"
"Quite likely. That punch has quite a punch," and then Gandalf chuckled at his own joke.
"Have you seen little Pippin?"
"Little Pippin? No, I don't suppose I have…shall we go look for him? But perhaps I should have some more punch first…"
"No, Gandalf, I don't think so. I think some fresh air will be better for you. Let us see if we can find Pippin. I have a feeling that it would be a good idea."
The two looked carefully around the edges of the crowd. Gandalf had no trouble seeing over the heads of the crowd. "There he is! Over by the bonfire." The wizard peered more closely. "Good heavens! What is he doing?"
"What?" asked Bilbo sharply.
"Quickly," said Gandalf. He hurriedly made his way to the bonfire, with Bilbo trotting at his heels--what *was* that lad doing?
Gandalf reached down. "Here, my lad! I'll take those." He reached down and took a handful of sparklers from Pippin's hand. "Were you going to light *all* of those at one time, Peregrin Took?"
Earnest green eyes gazed back. "Yes! I thought they would look grand all lighted up together!"
Bilbo picked Pippin up. "That is *not* a good idea, child! It could be very dangerous to light so many at once."
They carried the lad over to his parents, who looked askance.
"Don't ask," said Bilbo.
Paladin and Eglantine looked at one another with alarm, but their attention was drawn away by some of the other hobbits. Bilbo and Gandalf hurried away, to avoid any awkward questions.
"I suppose that I will have to tell them," said Bilbo, "but I think it can wait until tomorrow. I have never known a child so young who could find so many ways to fall into trouble! It will be a miracle if he lives to grow up."
Gandalf stopped for a moment, and stared up at the sky. "He will live to grow up. That child has a destiny."
Bilbo looked startled. "Gandalf?"
For an instant, Gandalf paid him no mind, and then he shook his head and looked down.
"I'm sorry, Bilbo. I seem to have forgotten what I was going to say. I think I may have indulged in a bit too much of the punch. I think that I shall retire now."
Bilbo watched him walk away, his tall form swaying just a bit. "I'm sure," he said to himself, "that it must have been the apple-brandy talking. But it's been a splendid Yule! Why, I don't think there has been such a lovely Yule here since Grandfather Gerontius' time!"
Far away in the Southfarthing, at the Hornblower family estate, Southfork, Lalia looked out her window, as she prepared to retire. The wedding had been every bit as extravagant as she had expected, and the Yule celebration afterwards had been magnificent.
As her maid came to help her get ready for bed, Lalia smiled. She had been treated to a bountiful feast, and had received an expensive gift of a gold bracelet from the Hornblower himself.
"I have had a splendid Yule, Begonia. I am glad I could see my way clear to attending."
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