Written for Dreamflower for the 2011 Yule Fic Exchange!
Request: A Yule story set in the Shire when all four hobbits are young, at Brandy Hall. Fluffy, funny, angsty, or all three!
“Uncle Teo’s Fiddle”
The melodious strains from Teobald Took’s fiddle floated from the front parlour of Brandy Hall. Paladin Took looked up from tying a ribbon around a small package and smiled. Memories flooded through him and he was carried back to other happy Yuletides spent at both the Hall and the Took farm. No matter where the families celebrated, Uncle Teo’s fiddle had always been a prominent part of things for as long as he could remember. Slowly, the gentle tune spun into a lively jig and Paladin’s foot began to tap of its own accord. The smile became a grin. He turned at the sound of a chuckle from the doorway. Eglantine beamed at him, then drew her arm from behind her back and dangled a sprig of mistletoe in front of her. Paladin took the spray from her hand. Holding it above their heads he kissed her tenderly on the lips.
“Happy Yuletide, my love,” he whispered. She melted into his warm embrace with a sigh.
“It’s a near-perfect Yule so far, Pad.”
“It is, indeed.”
“Lovely to be here with all of our family.” A squeal of laughter interrupted them as several children streaked by the door.
“And their offspring,” Paladin added, glancing in the direction of stampeding feet.
“I’m so glad young Samwise was able to join us.” Eglantine grimaced as she recalled the young hobbit’s sadness at the recent loss of his mother. “Poor lad.”
“’Twill do him good to be away from Hobbiton and all the reminders for a time. I’m pleased Frodo brought him along.”
“Pad--” Eglantine was interrupted once more by the returning mad dash in the hallway. With a grunt, Paladin broke away and leaned out the door.
“Lads!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs. “Leave off with all the racket, will you? ‘Tis enough noise to shatter the windows of the old Hall!” The sound of giggling met their ears and faded away, to be quickly replaced by a snort from the parlour. A even more lively tune started up, followed by the sound of stamping feet and clapping hands. Paladin shook his head. “Uncle Teo certainly knows how to liven up a room.”
Eglantine laughed. “Better he do that, dear, than sit around all dour-faced like some of the relatives.”
“You mean the ones who haven’t yet been into the elderberry wine or the Brandybuck ale?” He shook his head. “Just give them some time, and soon they’ll all be happier than a pig in--”
Before Eglantine could admonish her husband’s choice of expression, the sound of running feet alerted them to another pass of overexcited children. Paladin leaned out the door and snatched hold of two arms before they could pass. He pulled Sancho Proudfoot and his own son into the room. Feigning sternness, he shook them slightly. “Can you try tiptoeing for awhile, boys? You’re wearing out the floor. And my ears.” Pippin grinned at his father and Sancho laughed out loud.
“Better yet, why don’t you join the others in the parlour and listen to Uncle Teo play his fiddle?” Eglantine pointed down the hall. “It sounds like they’re doing a bit of a jig in there! Should be just what the two of you need at the moment to burn up some of that energy.” Paladin released them with a push in that direction.
“Why not? Come, Pip! Race you!” Sancho took off again with Pippin on his heels.
Paladin blew out a breath. His wife laid a hand on his arm. “You’ll never win that battle, Pad. Don’t even try.”
Paladin answered with a grin and swept his wife off her feet, dancing her around the room to the music from Teo’s fiddle. Eglantine laughed. “Put me down!”
“Never,” he whispered in her ear. The pair began to sway to the music, which now swelled with the added instruments of other hobbits that had apparently decided to join in the fun. At last, he set Eglantine on her feet and presented his gift with a flourish.
“Now? You don’t want me to wait to open it?”
Paladin shook his head, a twinkle lighting up his eyes. “It’s special, Tina. I wanted you to open it without any distractions from the children.”
Eglantine eyed him quizzically as she pulled the ribbon from the little box. Removing the top, she gasped and shot him a look of pure delight.
“Do you like it?” he whispered.
“Oh, Pad. . . I don’t have the words. . .it’s exquisite.”
Paladin lifted the delicate jewel from the box and fastened it around her throat. “This belonged to your mother. Are you certain you want me--” Paladin silenced her protest with a kiss.
“But shouldn’t Esmie--”
Her husband shook his head. “This is mine to give. I’ve been saving it for the right time.” He kissed her again. “It matches your frock.” He swept back a lock of curls from her brow. “It even matches your hair a wee bit.”
Eglantine touched the stone reverently with the tip of her finger. The garnet had been carefully chiseled into the shape of a delicate rose. “But--”
Paladin shook his head. “Actually, it was Esmie who reminded me that I had been saving it long enough. I think the occasion of our twenty-fifth Yule together is just right.”
“If you say so, Pad,” Eglantine murmured, touching the gemstone again.
“I do.” He took her hand and squeezed it. “Let’s join the merry-making, shall we?”
In the front parlour of the great Hall they were greeted with laughter. A few of the partiers raised their drinks to the couple as Paladin and Eglantine entered the room. There were Brandybucks gathered around the great fireplace drinking ale and telling tall tales, while the Yule log burned and crackled brightly. In a corner, several Took’s and Baggin’s cousins traded laughs, while Milo Chubb, his face red from an overabundance of ale, nodded his approval and struggled to interject his own version of the story. Nearby, some of the Burrows and an assortment of Proudfeet mingled. Occasionally, voices were raised in friendly disagreement regarding whose version of the tales being told were the most entertaining, if not correct.
Eglantine sought out the children and her eyes lighted on a huddle of youngsters whispering near the window. She gestured to Paladin that she was going to check on them and trotted away.
In a corner farthest from the crowd, and looking very uncomfortable, a lone Gamgee perched on a stool trying to look content. The fact that he constantly tugged at his collar and blushed furiously belied his discomfort.
Eglantine traded looks with her sister-in-law. The youngster’s uneasiness was painful to see, and even though Frodo Baggins was doing his best to cheer the lad it was clear nothing was working. Eglantine raised her eyebrows in question. Esmeralda gave a slight shake of her head. The two approached the small group and listened to Merry telling a riddle. Knowing that Sam usually enjoyed trying to solve them, he’d been dreaming up a variety all evening, but to no avail. While the other children laughed and clapped, Sam nodded politely, feigned amusement, and then quickly looked away.
Esmeralda laid a hand on her son’s shoulder. He was such a caring lad, always trying to put others at ease. There was little doubt Merry had taken it upon himself to make sure their guest was well entertained in his home.
Poor Sam gulped and tugged hard at his collar when Esmeralda spoke to him.
“Yes, ma’am?” Sam raised his eyes to meet hers.
Esmeralda laid a tender hand on Sam’s shoulder. “How are you, lad? Are you having a nice time visiting the Hall?”
Sam nodded obediently and lowered his eyes. Frodo said, “We were just discussing some things we might do tomorrow for fun.”
Pippin nodded brightly. “We’re going to go out to the woods and help Merimac and Merimas gather some green boughs to decorate the hearth! Aren’t we?”
His enthusiastic gaze was met with a frown from Sancho. “I thought we were going sliding on the hill in the snow? I already waxed the runners on my sled.”
“We will! After we help gather the greenery.” Pippin frowned back at his cousin. Although distantly related, they were the same age, and often at odds with one another.
Sancho planted his hands on his hips and stuck out his lip. He shook his head. “I think we should go play before we gather greenery.” The last word was uttered with a disdainful sniff. Pippin’s frown grew wider and he folded his arms across his chest.
Eglantine decided to nip the argument in the bud. Before Pippin could reply, she had each child’s elbow in her hands, steering them away from the group. She leaned down and spoke softly, but with no intention of taking no for an answer. “Take this discussion elsewhere, my lads.” Both boys looked up into her face and their mouths snapped shut. They vanished without another word. Eglantine gave a sigh of relief and turned back to the others. Merry was again trying to cheer Sam with a riddle.
Sam shot a pleading look at his friend and Frodo stood, taking him by the arm. He nodded at Merry before steering Sam towards the food-laden tables. “Let’s get some punch, shall we Sam?” Sam smiled his gratitude at his friend as he was lead away.
Saradoc had joined Paladin where he was crouching next to his Uncle Teo, watching him rosin his bow in preparation for another round of fiddling. On Teo’s other side, Togo Burrows was replacing some strings on his harp. Behind them, Rorimac Brandybuck was tapping his foot and humming to himself. Teo jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, pointing at his friend. “Old Rory’s starting the next round before the rest of us are ready,” he grumbled good-naturedly. “Paddy, fetch me my case, will you now? There’s a good lad.”
Paladin hurried to bring his uncle his fiddle case. Teo bent and rummaged through its contents, all the while muttering to himself. Paladin and Saradoc watched curiously, trading glances. Paladin raised his shoulder in a half shrug. No one ever questioned Uncle Teo; they simply watched his antics appreciated his eccentricities.
As old Tooks went, Teobald was considered one of the quirkiest. When not directing the Took’s hired help while they toiled at their chores, or lighting up his pipe in the barn, (much to his nephew’s chagrin and despite Paladin’s frequent admonishments about the dangers of smoking in the barn), or taking part in a spirited, but amiable argument with the very Tookish Auntie Pringle, he could usually be found playing his fiddle. But above all, Teo marched to his own music. He was very old. It seemed that no one quite remembered his true age, except for the old hobbit himself, and he wasn’t telling. Teobald Took was the youngest brother of Adalgrim Took and he had always been dear to Paladin’s heart.
Teo looked up and winked at Paladin and Saradoc, before raising his voice to be heard over the merry din of the partiers. “Hoi! Why dinna we play a round of the old Springle Ring, eh?” A round of applause and a cheer went up, along with a few whistles of approval. “Aye!” Teo shouted and climbed onto a chair, placing his fiddle beneath his chin. With a nod to his audience he began tapping his foot, then raised his bow and brought it down briskly on the strings, striking up the lively tune. The other players followed suit. Soon, the room was filled with noisy laughter and dancing.
Sam’s eyes lit up as he watched the scene. Frodo noted the change immediately and grinned. It was hard to resist Teobald Took’s lively fiddling and the enthusiastic revelers. Frodo noted that Pippin and Sancho had returned to join in the dancing. His own foot began to tap and then Sam soon forgot his gloom and joined in. Sapphire Proudfoot became the center of attention as she swung her husband Olo into the middle of the dancing and enthusiastically proceeded to outdo them all with her vigorous rendition of the well-liked dance.
LATE THAT NIGHT
Teo roamed the corridors of Brandy Hall, unable to sleep. He thought he might have a midnight nip of some of that extra special Brandybuck brandy, and then maybe raid the kitchens for some leftover pie and whatever other goodies struck his fancy. Turning the corner he jammed his big toe into the half-open door leading into the pantry off the main kitchen.
“Ow!” Teo hastily silenced his yelp of pain, but continued muttering under his breath. His eyes were slowly adjusting to the gloom and he carefully picked his way past the kitchen, aiming to go first into the cellar to find a suitable bottle of spirits. Teo paused and drew in a sharp breath when the sound of soft weeping met his sharp ears. Who on earth, he wondered, could be holed up down hear having such a cry tonight?
Teobald crept forward, taking care not to stub his toe again. He listened at the next door before slipping it open ever so slowly to reveal a lad crouching on the floor, curled into a ball and weeping pitifully. The sight tore at his heart, particularly when he realised how the youth was trying to disguise his suffering so no one would hear. He laid a gentle hand on the boy’s arm and a frightened Samwise Gamgee jerked upright.
“Oh! I’m begging your pardon, I am, Mr. Took, sir! I didn’t mean to bother you, or anyone! I, I. . .I didn’t think anyone would be coming in here this late or I would have never, ever--”
“Lad. Settle down, now, will you please?” Teo squatted next to him and peered into the reddened eyes. Sam scrubbed his shirtsleeve across his face in a furious gesture and sniffled loudly. The youngster watched Teo, his apprehension gradually giving way to curiosity as the kind eyes in the crinkled face gazed steadily back at him. “Now. Why dinna you tell me what you’re doing down here all by your lonesome self, and crying your eyes out, eh?”
Sam dropped his eyes. After several moments he answered, “I. . .well, that is to say, I’m. . .uh. . .”
“Yes? Just pop right out with it, boy. It’s all right. I willn’a bite.”
Sam let out a sigh of resignation. “I’m missing my mum, sir. I didn’t mean to carry on so, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.” He studied Teo’s face, trying to gage the elderly hobbit’s reaction to his disclosure.
Teo’s eyes softened. “When did it happen, lad? How long has it been?”
Sam’s eyes glistened. He wiped his sleeve across his face before replying. “Three months, sir.”
Teo nodded, settling himself onto the floor. He draped an arm across Sam’s shoulders. “Would you care to unburden yourself, lad? That is to say, would you like to talk about it? I’ll wager you haven’t said much to anyone since you lost her, have you?” Sam shook his head. “And your da, your brothers and sisters. All of ‘em being lost in their own world of pain since then? And not giving you the chance to share your own grief. Am I right?”
“Yessir,” San whispered. “But I understand. My da. . .it just about killed him, losing Mum. I don’t want him to have to worry about me.”
“No, you dinna want to make things harder for anyone, I can see that. But what about Sam?”
“Sam lost his mama. Don’t you think Sam deserves a wee bit of taking care of too?”
“I don’t know.”
Teo squeezed his shoulders. “Well, I do. You’ve been suffering a great deal, lad. We understand and we want to help. You’re with friends, you know. Sort of like a second family, aye? That’s why Frodo asked you to come join our merry-making! He wanted you to know we all care about you, lad.”
The quietly kind voice was too much for the youngster and Sam now wept openly. Teo held him and let the tears flow for a long time. When Sam had exhausted himself, Teo pulled him to his feet. “Come lad.” He led the way back to his rooms and tucked the youngster into his own bed. Then he sat down beside him and reached for his fiddle.
Sam’s eyes lit up despite his weariness. “I love hearing you play, sir,” he whispered.
Teo smiled and lifted his bow. The air slowly filled with the sweet strains of a Tookish lullaby from long ago. Sam closed his eyes and allowed himself to be carried away to another place and time. He dreamed his mother was holding him in her arms and singing, the way she always did when he was ill or sad.
Teobald Took played his fiddle late into the night.
“Uncle Teo’s Fiddle”