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Written for Dreamflower as part of the 2008 Yule Exchange of the LOTR Community Challenges.
Dreamflower’s request was: I would like to see Bilbo’s Yule at Beorn’s house. (I’ve done one myself but I’d love to see another!)
A/N: From the chapter “The Return Journey” of “The Hobbit”:
“He [Bilbo] had many hardships and adventures before he got back [to The Shire] . . . but he was well guided and well guarded - the wizard was with him, and Beorn for much of the way - and he was never in great danger again. Anyway by mid-winter Gandalf and Bilbo had come all the way back, along both edges of the Forest, to the doors of Beorn’s house; and there for a while they both stayed. Yule-tide was warm and merry there; and men came from far and wide to feast at Beorn’s bidding.”
Yule-Tide in Beorn’s Hall
The three travelers were glad to see the ancient oaks and high thorn hedge that encircled the grounds of Beorn’s home and gardens. Even with the best of guides the Wild was not easy to travel through in the waning of the year and Bilbo was more than ready to sleep once more upon the straw-filled mattress under the warm woolen blankets that had been his when last he slept in Beorn’s great wooden home.
Bilbo had noticed a change in the large man’s demeanor. He seemed less close than he had before the war. Whereas before their first meeting Gandalf had made it quite clear that not many were allowed into the compound within the hedge, now there were frequent guests. Few at first, and only men, but as Yule-tide neared their women and children came with them.
As was usual for Bilbo, expecially now that his Tookish half had been nurtured by his adventure, he wondered about a good many things; things he felt it was not polite to ask Beorn about. He wondered who these folk were and why they had been allowed to enter Beorn’s land. He wondered if there would be much, if anything at all, done about Yule. And, much as he would never admit this to his host, he wondered how long he could be content partaking of Beorn’s limited diet. He had only been here a short time with the dwarves and such a diet as Beorn’s had been quite pleasant. But this time he and the wizard would be staying until the better weather arrived and, though the food was excellently prepared, the menu was becoming rather dull. If there was a Yule celebration, the hobbit feared the accompanying feast would be a disappointment.
Bilbo did not let these matters trouble him too much. He was an amiable soul and soon was the friend of the other guests. The children in particular enjoyed this strange adult who was no bigger than themselves. He kept them entertained for hours with stories of his adventure or of his home in the distant Shire. From them he learned that their families did celebrate Yule-tide. He also discovered that the young ones were as curious as he was to know if they would be doing so here in Beorn’s Hall.
“It is all so different this winter, Mr. Bilbo.” The children looked about to see if their parents were near enough to hear them. “We have never been here before and Master Beorn doesn’t do very many things the way we are used to. We have asked our mothers and fathers, but they have told us to hush. Do you know if there will be a Yule-feast, Mr. Bilbo?”
“I am sorry to say I do not know anything about it.” The children looked so crestfallen Bilbo felt terrible. “But I would love it if you would tell me about what you usually do for Yule, and, if you like, I shall tell you about Yule in the Shire.”
The hobbit and the children kept each other entertained for the rest of the evening until the young ones had to go to bed.
Yule morning Bilbo awoke to a stronger than usual scent of the forest permeating the huge house. He sat up in his cozy bed and looked around. His bed was set upon the low platform at the side of Beorn’s great hall as it had been when Bilbo had been there with the dwarves, and all about the hall Beorn’s animal servants, along with the women, were hanging garlands of holly, ivy and fragrant pine. The hobbit nearly gave a shout of cheer; there would be a Yule celebration after all! He hopped out of his bed and began to look around.
A huge log sat near the fire pit. From what the children has told him, he knew it would be lit during the great Yule-feast that evening to burn through the night and bring good fortune to all within the hall, just as was done at Great Smails and Brandy Hall. Holly boughs were run down the length of the huge table with large red, green and natural beeswax candles set among them. Everything in the huge hall looked and smelled wonderful!
Bilbo paused and sniffed the air more carefully. It did smell wonderful. Like . . . like bacon cooking.
“Bacon?” he asked aloud to no one in particular, knowing full well that his host didn’t eat meat. Well, at least when he was in his Man shape he didn’t. Bilbo had no idea what Beorn did while in his Bear shape.
“Yes, my friend. It is bacon you are smelling.”
Bilbo spun about to find Gandalf behind him. “But . . . bacon, Gandalf? I didn’t think that Beorn ate meat.”
Gandalf made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “These men and women are Beorn’s kin. When he drew apart from them, for reasons even I don’t know, he chose to live as he did and eat as he did. But now he has welcomed them into his home and I think, my friend, that he intends to let them live with him and for him to dwell with them.”
“Ah!” Bilbo smiled. “I have been wondering who they are but hadn’t felt it my place to ask many questions.”
Gandalf laid a hand on the hobbit’s shoulder as he winked at him.
“You were right to not be nosey, but you could have asked me, my dear hobbit.” The wizard smiled as he sat down on a chair so as to be at his friend’s eye level. “These men are hunters and fishermen. They have always been so, just like most others of the race of Men that I have known. Beorn is aware of that and he and the elders have had several discussions regarding this and other matters. He has granted to them the eating of certain animals within his house. You have noted those animals which serve him?”
“Yes, I have. Ponies, dogs, and sheep.”
“A few societies of Men eat ponies or horses and there are a few that eat dogs.” Bilbo made a face at the thought of eating either of those animals. “Most all Men do, however, eat sheep and goats and cattle. Beorn has asked that these be removed from the diet of those who are his kin, and they have agreed. Also, you will remember that our host does not eat the beasts of the fields and forests.”
“I remember, yes. Honey, cream, vegetables and breads were all we were served when we were here before.”
Gandalf nodded. “He has also asked them to eat no deer, nor the larger animals of the wild. They may eat squirrels and rabbits, for they are plentiful, and they may fish the lakes and rivers. But, as far as I am aware, he will not do so himself. Of the other domestic animals commonly used for food he is allowing them to eat chickens and pigs.”
Gandalf stood and the two began a leisurely stroll towards the kitchen.
“I also believe that they are to do no butchering within sight of the compound nor roast any beast whole. Even so, it is a difficult thing for Beorn.”
“Understandably,” Bilbo nodded. “Though I must admit I am glad for the change.”
Gandalf laughed. “I think most folk would agree with you, my dear hobbit. Although I know many Elves and some groups of Men who eat as Beorn does.”
They reached the kitchen where the last bits and bobs of food were being readied for serving. Platters were heaped high with bacon and sausages, fried eggs and various types of bread. Bowls were filled with scrambled eggs, potatoes, fruits and, to Bilbo’s great delight, mushrooms. And, as there would always be, there were various honeys and luscious thick cream.
The entire day was spent in merry feasting mixed amongst times of songs and tales. A large evergreen tree had been set up in one corner of the vast hall. It was decorated with pairs of mittens and socks. Bilbo had heard of this custom from the children, but it was new to Gandalf. He was told that any who needed new of these items were to help themselves on the morrow then the matron who explained the custom shyly pointed to the bottom of the tree.
“There are some for made in sizes for our boys and girls that ought to fit you, Bilbo, should you have need.”
Bilbo blushed. “Actually, I do have need, dear lady, and I thank you and the others most heartily. It was springtime when I left on this journey and I have only a few winter garments with me that we were given before leaving for this return journey. They are good, mind you, and no lack of appreciation is intended to those who gave them to me, but there are not enough for changing when the weather has been wet.”
The feast in the evening was sumptuous. There was ham and roast pork, chicken and rabbit and fish, both smoked and fresh caught earlier in the day. There were carrots and potatoes, turnips and onions. Oat bread and wheat bread and various rolls and buns.
Beorn’s wonderful bees provided a wondrous variety of honey. There were the various golden honeys made from different kinds of clover, the light amber of alfalfa honey and the reddish amber of honey the bees made from heather. The most unusual of all were the white honeys that had their origin in the flowers of the raspberry and rosemary plants.
Everyone ate to nearly bursting then waddled slowly away from the long table to sit around Yule Log burning in the fire pit for more story telling and singing. Bilbo told a story of the first Yule he remembered spending at Great Smials. Gandalf told of a comical Yule he spent in Bree at the Prancing Pony. Beorn told a tale of Yule in the deep woods on a crystal clear night when he was a bear. When the story finished he paused.
“But, my dear kinsmen and dear recently acquired friends, I think this will be my most memorable Yule of all. I am reunited with my family and I have allowed myself to be part of the wide world of other races.” The large, burly, man looked slowly around at every person and animal in the room. “You are all incredibly dear to me. Thank you all for being here.”
He finished and sat down amid their happy tears and reassurances that they all felt the same. His animal friends, and the pets of his kinsmen, all came forward to nuzzle him with their noses.
Later, after everyone had taken to their beds, Bilbo Baggins lay awake. It just wasn’t right to his hobbit sensibilities that he had been so well fed, and would be invited to partake of the gifts on the tree in the morning, yet he had given nothing at all. Suddenly his eyes gleamed in the dim light of the still burning Yule log. Quietly, so quietly only the animals were aware of him, he snuck past all the sleepers to the storeroom where his and Gandalf’s luggage had been stowed. There he found what he was looking for.
The next morning, after another hearty breakfast, everyone gathered around the tall tree. A young mother whose husband had died that summer while hunting nudged her young son forward. The boy shyly took a pair of socks and a pair of mittens off of the tree. He slipped his hand into a mitten as he walked back to his mother.
“Mother!” His eyes lit up as he jerked his hand out of the red mitten. “Mother look!” The lad held up a shiny gold coin. He felt the toes of the brown then shoved his hand deep inside one of them to pull out another coin. His mother found the same thing in the mittens she took from the tree. Indeed, there was a one coin in every pair of mittens and socks, even those near the top where only the tallest of the men could reach.
“How did you get them way up there, my dear hobbit?” Gandalf bent low and whispered into Bilbo’s ear.
“How did you know it was me?” Bilbo’s eyes widened with surprise.
“I know Dwarf gold when I see it.”
“Oh! Yes. Well, I had some assistance.” The hobbit pointed up to where several pairs of doves nested in the rafters.
Gandalf smiled and nodded. “Well done, Bilbo Baggins! Well done, and a Happy Yule, my dear, dear friend.”
“Thank you, my dear Gandalf, and the best and brightest Yule to you as well.”
The wizard rested a caring hand upon the hobbit’s shoulder as they basked in the warmth of their new friends’ joy.
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