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An Ember of Joy  by Mirkwoodmaiden

Great Smials, The Shire  1400 SR

The smell of cinnamon and cloves twitched Pippin’s nose as he neared the kitchens at Great Smials.  He sighed contentedly.  Pumpkin bread was just being taken out of the oven.  He loved this time of year when the smells coming from the kitchens were particularly enticing and the Yule Banquet, quite the affair in Tookland, was being prepared.  He entered the kitchens and was greeted by the sight of his mother in deep discussion with their chief cook, Mistress  Hyacinth.  The kitchens were a bevy of activity.  The afore-smelled pumpkin bread loaves were sitting on a sideboard cooling before they were ready for slicing.  Pippin pursed his lips and thought regretfully that he would have to wait just a bit before liberating a slice or two…or three.  The memory of previously burnt fingers were his teacher in this decision.  He did however spy a tray of stuffed mushrooms that was woefully unattended.  He sidled over as quietly as his ten years has taught him and he popped two small tartlets into his mouth before a voice behind him declared, “Young Master Peregrin, that will be enough sampling for you this morning!”

Pippin turned around and saw the cook, Mistress Hyacinth towering over him and in the background he could see the swish of his mother’s skirts as she vacated the kitchens through the door that lead to the kitchen gardens.  He turned on his brightest smile and said, “But Mistress Hyacinth, I was merely sampling, y’know for quality control purposes.  We want everything to be just right for the banquet tonight.”

“Um-hmm.” Mistress Hyacinth eyed the child, thinking that butter would not melt in his mouth. She tried to be stern with him but since he and his sisters had moved with their mother and father from their farm near Whitwell after Ferumbras named Paladin to be heir to the Thain, his winning smile and infectious cheer had softened the old Cook’s heart. “So, say you?  Well then,” she seemed to ponder an idea, perhaps weighing it for sanity, “Sit right here by me and I will show you how we make Sunrise Biscuits.”

“Yes, Please!” Pippin’s molasses-coloured curls bobbing up and down with excited affirmation.  Quickly installed on a high stool at Hyacinth’s elbow Pippin watched as the cook measured out the flour, eggs, sugar, salt, leavening, ginger and much more than a pinch of lemon zest. 

“That’s the sunlight being added in!” Hyacinth explained as she added in the zest of a couple of lemons and oranges.  Pippin nodded sagely.  Well, as sagely as a mob-headed ten-year with a button nose than always seemed to find trouble could nod.  He watched in rapt fascination as she mixed the ingredients together and saw her set aside a mixture of lemon and orange zest for later.  His fingers, of their own accord, found themselves in the bowl and then in his mouth which immediately puckered.

Hyacinth laughed, “That will teach you! Not all bowls are for sampling.”

Pippin unpuckered with difficulty, “Lesson learned,” he stated emphatically.

Hyacinth laughed and handed him a spoon, this time from the batter bowl, “Here! You will like this a lot better!” 

Pippin took a caution lick and then a smile stretched across his face, “Now that’s good!”  Hyacinth laughed.  “Why are they called Sunrise biscuits, Mistress Hyacinth?” Pippin asked.  This was his first Yule at Great Smials and he was fascinated by all the preparations.  His family, like all Hobbit families, marked Yule with celebration but nothing like this.

“Well, young master.  The way it was described to me as a young child is that they take the shape of the sun.” Pippin looked curiously at her explanation. Hyacinth continued. “Here let me show you!” She took the ball of dough and plopped it onto the floured board and spread it out with the properly dusted rolling pin.  Rolling this way and that she shaped the pastry bread dough into a rectangle.  “Hand me that bowl with the lemon and orange zest, young master!”  Pippin passed her the bowl.  “Now the trick is that you let the zest sit for a bit of resting, not withstanding little Hobbit fingers that may have disturbed their rest,” She gave a smiling side glance to Pippin, “before you add a bit of sweetness.” She finished saying as she dropped in a dollop of honey and a handful of sugar into the bowl and gave it a quick stir. “Now then you brush the mixture across the dough making sure that you get it spread to the four corners as you say, “Come the evening, come the night, come the Midwinter morning shining bright.” She spread the first dollop with a flat wooden spoon. “Would you like to try, young Master Pippin!”

“Yes, please!” Pippin said excitedly.  He jumped off the high stool as Hyacinth retrieved a stepstool so he could easily stand at the table.  He reached into the bowl with the wooden spoon and plopped a good-sized dollop and repeated with Hyacinth, “Come the evening, come the night, Come the Midwinter morning shining bright!” as he spread the sweet and tangy mixture to the four corners of the dough.

“That’s right! Young Master, we spreading the sunshine!” Mistress Hyacinth said with a smile in her voice.  She made sure that all corners were covered finishing off with the last of the spread. “We start at this side and roll it up into a log shape.” She deftly rolled the sheet and grabbed a knife and began to cut across the log, laying them on a big baking tray.  “Now we make the sunbursts.” She took a small wooden dowl and lightly pressed across the little circle four times.  

Pippin looked at it, “Those look like little rays of sunlight!”  Mistress Hyacinth, “Exactly!  We save these for sunrise to eat after first light.  Bringing the taste of the Sun home inside us.  Let’s finish these and pop them in the oven.”

They worked diligently and finished off the batch. “Pippin!” came a call from outside the kitchen arch.

Pippin’s ears perked up and dread filled his heart. “Lessons!” He gave Mistress Hyacinth a quick peck on the cheek, “Gotta go!” Mistress Hyacinth chuckled as she watched the wee lad scamper with the purposeful intent of evading his tutor. Wiping her hand on her apron she returned the preparations for feasting that night.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Ferumbras walked into his study and took immediate cheer as he surveyed the wonderful roaring fire that blazed in the fireplace.  He came in here to his own private study to escape the responsibilities of the Thain in as much as he could do.  On Yule one needed to reflect and look forward; it was not a day for work.  He spied his warming blanket by his chair by the fire.  It looked like it was suffering from lack of employment.  He chuckled in his rumbly sort of way and murmured, “Well, we can’t have that now, can we?” and he promptly settled into his chair and proceeded to spread the hearth warmed blanket across his legs when he heard a small sneeze coming from the curtained window that curiously seemed to have grown a small pair of feet.  He was distracted from his curious observings by a small officious voice. 

“Beg Pardon, Thain Ferumbras,” Ferumbras looked at the small hobbit at the doorway looking a mite-bit perturbed. He nodded very grandly at this hobbit whom he recognized as young Pippin’s tutor, an officious little hobbit who often assumed airs that were not belonging to him.  “You may come forward,” he said giving grand airs that he very rarely assumed as he found them to be mostly unnecessary when dealing with most hobbits of good sense. 

“Have you seen young Master Peregrin?  We were due to have lessons, but I have not been able to find him.”

Ferumbras thought quickly about a certain pair of feet the curtain seemed to have recently grown and said, “I have not seen him.” Well at least not all of him if his assumption as to the owner of those feet were correct. Another small sneeze and immediately Ferumbras clapped the tutor on the back and said, “My good Master Tutor, you want to get that sneeze taken care of.  It is not something to sneeze at,” he explained as he was guiding him back towards the door.

“But, Thain Ferumbras, I didn’t sneeze.”

“Of course you did.  I heard it myself.” He paused to give the smaller hobbit a gimlet look, “Are you saying that your Thain is telling a fib.”  He paused portentously.

“No, No, of course not, Thain Ferumbras.  I would not dare to imply…. I simply do not recall sneezing but perhaps….”

“Quite right, Quite right.  Off you go to see Healer Poppy.  She will set you to rights.” Ferumbras bundled him out of the room.

“Oh! Should you see the young Master…”

“I will send him straight away to you.”

“Thank you, Sir.  Though true be told I am feeling a little achy, now that you mention it.  Perhaps I will take to my bed.  Wouldn’t want to risk the health of the young Master…”

“Quite right, quite right.  Follow that train of thought.  Good-bye, Master Tutor, hope you feel better soon.”

The younger hobbit toddled away in the direction of Poppy’s healing.

“Right.” Ferumbras said to himself as he strode over to the curtain with feet and pulled it wide to see his little nephew with admiration and gratitude written across his lightly freckled nose. “Oh Uncle, that was truly amazing.  I thought when I sneezed, I was a goner for sure!”

Ferumbras eyed his young nephew with amused indulgence evident on his face, “Thank you my wayward nephew for your summation of my talents.  And would you kindly tell me why you chose my private study as your means of evading the dreaded tutor.”

“Sorry Uncle but it presented itself as the perfect hideaway.  Master Priamus would never look for me in here.”

Ferumbras tried to be stern with his young nephew who really needed to respect a few more rules but after a few moments of trying he rumbled a bit of a laugh.  His nephew was a handful to his tutor he suspected, and mischievous to boot but he radiated joy and Ferumbras knew that there was certainly not enough of that precious commodity that it was not to shunted when found.  He laughed, “That it is!  And good thinking.  Officious little man!  Imagine holding Lessons on Yule!  Never heard of such a thing.”  Pippin nodded his affirmation, honey curls bobbing.  Uncle Ferumbras had since they came to live in Great Smials early in the years had always intimidated Pippin a little.  He was always rushing about ordering people about, or so it seemed to him but now he saw underneath a possible kindred spirit.

Ferumbras looked at his small nephew and smiled, “Come and sit with me for a few minutes while we let the festive activity of this night swirl around us.  He bent over with a conspiratorial whisper, “It is the secret to my success as Thain, give good people the jobs they excel at and let them do them, then retreat to my study and have a pipe.” He winked at Pippin.  “Sit, Sit!” Pippin sat in an overstuff chair right next to his uncle. 

Ferumbras pulled out his pipe and a bag of pipe weed.  Placing the pipe in his mouth he opened up the little bag and holding it up to his face inhaling deeply. “Ah!” Pippin saw a look of supreme joy spread across his uncle’s wrinkled face.  “Longbottom Leaf….nothing like it in all the Shire…” He moved the little bag nearer to Pippin. “Have a smell of that, my young lad!”  Pippin was reveling in all the attention his uncle was lavishing upon him and the look of joy he had seen on Ferumbras’ face completely fascinated him.  He leaned over and inhaled the Longbottom leaf.  The rich earthy scent invaded his senses giving him the feeling that magic was contained within that smell.  He looked up at his uncle with such delight that Ferumbras let out a booming laugh. “That’s my lad.”  Ferumbras looked speculatively at Pippin. “How old are you, my lad?”

Pippin announced proudly, “Ten-years old!”

“Ten, you say.  Well now, so you are getting on, indeed.”  Ferumbras started to pet his pockets and search through small drawers near him.

“What are you looking for, Uncle?”

“You’ll see!  You’ll see!”  He continued rummaging having extended his searching to a credenza at the near wall.  “Aha!” he shouted in triumph, “Success!”  He turned back to Pippin holding a small pipe with a wide bowl and a curved mouthpiece.   He handed the pipe into his nephew’s hands.  “This was my first pipe.”  Pippin held it reverently.  “What say you to giving it a go?”

“Me, Uncle?  My mother says I am too young to start smoking.”

“What!? Nonsense!  I was around your age when I first started smoking!  In fact, it was another Midwinter’s Eve when my grandfather Isumbras gave me this same pipe.  As I recall over imagined objections of my own mum.”  His eyes twinkled a bit, “What say we have a smoke together?  A fine thing to do on a Midwinter’s Eve as we contemplate life and those who have left us.  A secret we can share as I shared it with my granddad.”

Pippin’s eyes lit up, “I suppose we can do that.  I can’t see how Mum could mind that.  Holding with tradition is very important to her.”

Ferumbras’ eyes lit up, “There’s a good lad!  Now to the fine art of filling a pipe.” He patted the cushioned stool right next to him, “You had best sit close and observe.” Pippin promptly installed himself.  Ferumbras began, “You don’t just stuff a pipe.  For the true experience you must layer the leaf.  Lay,” he grabbed a little bit from the pouch and dropped it into the bowl of the pipe, “the leaf and then tamp it down. Then lay another layer and then another.”

“Why, uncle?”

“Well my lad, it allows the smoke to have more body so it can more fully breathe.”

Pippin expressed an “ah!” of understanding, but he did not, really.  Maybe it was a grown-up thing. But his understanding was not important.  If his uncle said it needed to be done, then do it he would. 

“Next, and this is very important my lad, you do not inhale the smoke. You simply invite it into your mouth.”  He inhaled to demonstrate “and then breathe out.” He stated after he had let the sweet-smelling smoke.

Pippin tried and for a few seconds it was wonderful and then he opened his mouth to say so and ended up coughing and his eyes watering.

“Very good for a first effort,” his uncle exclaimed after the coughing had stopped, “Try again.”

But Pippin did not need to be told a second time.  He was already inhaling a second puff and this time held the smoke for longer before succumbing to the coughing once again. 

Ferumbras laughed noting the lad’s enthusiasm, “Easy does it, lad…  It is an experience not a race.”

Pippin nodded, already taking his third puff and this time he let out a controlled exhalation of the smoke.  He was very proud of himself. “See, Uncle,” He exclaimed.

“Very good my lad! Very Good.  A true Took.”

Pippin’s face shone with the praise from his uncle.  And thus, quietly a new Took was enrolled in the time-honoured tradition of pipe weed and a bond was forged between young and old.  And Pippin looked upon his uncle far differently. When it came time to light the Yule candle the oldest and the youngest came forth to symbolically bring forth the light together.  Pippin stood with his uncle, and they lit the candle that would preside over the feast, and it would be the light that lit the bonfire that would shine through the night as all in Great Smials would keep vigil as they waited for the dawn with wassail, stories and remembrances to keep them company and the fire to keep them warm.

Pippin was curled up against his mum when he felt a nudge.  It was his uncle, “Wake my lad and come to stand with me as First Light glints.” 

Pippin rubbed his eyes blearily, “First Light?  It comes mighty early, doesn’t it?” he asked sleepily.

“That it does, my lad, that it does,” Ferumbras said as he softly chuckled and handed him a candle.   Pippin stood next to his uncle and his papa waiting for the dawn.  Young hobbits were passing around trays full of baked goods and upon further inspection he saw that they were the Sunrise biscuits he and Mistress Hyacinth had baked earlier that day.   He joyfully took one and waited for the light as the cook had said was proper to do. As soon as the light broke across the sky a candle from the embers of the vigil bonfire was lit and from that candle others were lit in a chain of light and life spreading across the town and the Smials. Light that would be used to rekindle hearths and kitchens fires for the coming year.  To Pippin’s young eyes it seemed that the world re-lit itself and the beauty of the moment stayed like an ember of joy that remained forever lit within the young hobbit’s heart.





        

        

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