Yuletide evergreens by AStarryNight

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"Yuletide Evergreens"

~This night we pray our lives will show

This dream he had each child still knows;

We are waiting, we have not forgotten.~

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"Uncle, where do you want these books to go?"

Bilbo Baggins turned to find his beloved nephew Frodo Baggins standing behind him, holding a stack of heavy books of Elvish lore in his arms.

"Oh-- ah, just a moment more, dear lad." Hurriedly, Bilbo searched for a good place to put the tomes out of the reach of the children who would be coming to Bag End tomorrow. Finally, he grinned. "Right here, Frodo. Up top on the cupboard. We don't want your young rascal of a cousin getting his hands on these, do we?"

"No, Uncle," his nephew agreed, sharing Bilbo's fond grin. "Can you believe it, though? Pippin will be five this year! And Merry-why, Merry's practically a tweenager now!"

"Yes, Frodo-lad, it is quite remarkable, isn't it?" Bilbo chuckled and placed the last book on the pile, out of sight and reach of any of the small hobbit children's hands. "Ah, well-at least now you will have one more cousin to be a playmate to."

"Oh, Pippin is a real imp, he is," Frodo replied. "Did you hear Uncle Paladin and Aunt Eglantine talking about how he poured the sugar bowl onto Cousin Pearl's dress during the festivities in the fall?"

Bilbo roared with laughter. "He never did!" he exclaimed, still laughing. "My, he's given you a run for your money in scandals, hasn't he?"

Frodo flushed, his pale cheeks going slightly red with indignation and embarrassment. "I haven't done anything of the sort since I came up here to live with you in Bag End, Uncle Bilbo."

Bilbo laughed again despite himself. Sometimes, Frodo took a joke that he made too seriously. Of course, growing up in Buckland the way that he had been... Shaking the thought away, he clapped a hand on his nephew's shoulder. "You should know when I am joking by now, Frodo-my-lad."

Frodo's flush deepened as he realized how he had reacted, but instead of clamming up and walking away like he would have with anybody else, he merely grinned in self-chagrin. "I suppose," he conceded.

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It was the eve of the beginning of a new year, the day before the Winter Solstice would end and Spring would be on this side of the seasons. In Hobbiton, the festive cheer was at its all-time high. Celebrations had been held for countless days for the coming New Year, and today would reach its pinnacle with feasts and parties and the several families living in the area would meet for fellowship and fun. The air itself was laden with the smells of hundreds of different foods Gammers had set to steep and fine turkeys and freshly-cut ham, complete with dishes of potatoes and greens and all manner of foods that Hobbits loved. Hobbit lads and lasses could hardly contain their excitement, knowing the food that awaited them, and the fun that would follow afterwards-because they were all given permission to play in the freshly-fallen snow that blanketed the ground.

Over the bridge in Hobbiton there came a tall figure which walked bent and leaning on a gnarled walking stick, dressed in simple robes of grey and a pointed blue hat that protected his face from the snow. This man was a not-so-often-seen visitor of the Shire, but every one of his visits had been memorable so far. After all, Gandalf the Grey was a wizard, and everyone knew how a wizard loved to leave an impression. He walked all through Hobbiton up Bagshot Row and to the door of Bag End, where he hastily knocked upon it with his staff.

"Coming!" called a familiar voice, and soon the door swung inwards to reveal Frodo, who blinked seeing their visitor, before smiling broadly. "Gandalf!" he exclaimed, happiness blooming on his face, and he immediately turned back to the hall behind him and shouted, "Uncle! Uncle, Gandalf's here!" Then he turned back to the waiting wizard and stepped back. "Come in, Gandalf!  It's much too bitter to be standing outside for too long, especially with what you're wearing. Aren't you cold?"

Gandalf smiled through his thick beard. "Perhaps a bit, Frodo," he conceded, and ducked inside the waiting door of Bag End. He was immediately hit with the aromas wafting through the air of cooking food and knew where Bilbo undoubtedly was. Sure enough, he heard footsteps padding down the hall, and Bilbo appeared from the kitchen, his own face lighting up with his surprise and pleasure of seeing an old friend.

"Gandalf!" He came forward and wizard and hobbit embraced, as Frodo took Gandalf's hat and staff to put up. "We didn't expect you until later this evening, I'm afraid," Bilbo began apologetically as he drew back. "We were just preparing the mid-day meal and our dishes for the festivities tonight. Oh, that reminds me-Frodo!" he called, and immediately his nephew appeared around the corner again. "Frodo, will you check the ham for me? It's just about time for it to sit." Frodo obeyed, disappearing back into the kitchen with a smile for Gandalf. "It's been a very busy day already, old friend!" Bilbo continued as he led Gandalf farther into the smial.

"The party starts when?" Gandalf asked, looking at his surroundings like he did every time he came around.

"Oh, around suppertime," came the reply. "And it is said this will be the largest Hobbiton has seen in fifty years!"

The wizard chuckled as he was led into the kitchen area to a seat at the small table. "I'm sure it will be, my friend."

"Will you come with us, Gandalf?" Frodo asked from the slow-cooking oven where the source of the smells was coming from.

Gandalf looked thoughtful for a moment, then, as if deciding some important matter, nodded in a decisive way, his eyes twinkling with mischief. "I do believe I will, Frodo. After all, I cannot miss a Hobbit's home-cooked meal, can I?"

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The festivities were certainly all that had been promised, and more. Hobbits of all ages came to the dinner to eat all that they could, which was a lot, and then sing and dance their celebrations of the season. The yule log burned brightly in the center of it all. Merry Brandybuck, Frodo's younger cousin, was especially curious about the yule log, and followed Frodo around that evening, acting like a small puppy, asking questions, catching up on news, and all the while Pippin Took was following them, as close to Merry as the latter was to Frodo.

"Frodo?"

"Yes, Merry-mine?"

"Why do we burn the yule log like this? Isn't it just a log? Why do we have to keep it burning for so long?"

Frodo smiled to hear his cousin's questions, knowing that Merry Brandybuck was among the most curious Hobbits he knew (unless he counted himself, which he did not), and that thirst for knowledge had certainly not diminished at all since he had left Buckland two years ago. "Well, Merry," he began, picking up Pippin as he did so, "we burn the yule log not only because it's a tradition, but also to keep evil spirits away and bring good luck to us all during the next year."

"Frodo?"

"Hmm?"

"Will you tell me a story later?" Frodo's explanation had sounded like the beginning of a story, and he loved his cousin's stories.

Frodo looked at him, considering, and then grinned. "Of course I will, dearling."

Of course, word spread around among the rest of the children there that Frodo Baggins was going to tell a story, and they all begged to hear it, too, so Bilbo laughed to hear of the situation, and told them all to go to Bag End and warm themselves by the fire. The festivities were ending, anyway, so the parents allowed them to go.

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The children all followed Frodo back to Bag End, eager to hear a story from him. Merry, however, stopped for an instant, spotting something in the snow a few feet off the path, and went to pick it up. His gaze brightened when seeing what it was, and he looked over at Frodo almost eagerly. As the rest of the children piled into the doorway and shrugged out of their coats and scarves and hats, he instead approached his older cousin, holding his surprise behind his back. "Frodo," he said, to catch his attention.

Frodo smiled at him. "What is it, Merry-mine?" His smile turned curious seeing Merry was hiding something. "What do you have, dearling?"

"I found it in the snow," Merry explained, bringing it into view, and Frodo's smile softened. His younger cousin held a frozen sprig of evergreen, its needles covered with ice and powdered with snow, a brilliant bluish-green. It must have fallen from a bundle as someone brought limbs of evergreen to their holes and been snowed on during the night. It really was quite beautiful, Frodo thought, and Merry could see that expressed on his face, so he held it out to his older cousin. Frodo took it into his own hands and felt its still-soft needles. The other children noticed his fascination with the small plant and watched him curiously, and followed him as Frodo made his way into the living room by the hearth, where he sat down on an armchair, his gaze turning thoughtful.

The other hobbit children huddled around him, and as he watched from the kitchen doorway, Bilbo smiled. Frodo was often considered a mite odd by living in Buckland and the nasty rumors spread by Lobelia Sacksville-Baggins, but that did not matter in the least to the children of Hobbiton. To them, Frodo was not the least bit strange, but instead a gifted storyteller and a play-pal, as he was almost always willing to play a game with those younger than himself. He could keep them entertained for hours with his tales and songs, and it was clear how much he loved children.

Bilbo watched Pippin scot up close and rest against Frodo's legs, and Merry did the same. Frodo smiled down at both of them, and took the sprig of evergreen in his hands that Merry had given him.

"Have any of you ever heard of Old Man Green?" he asked softly, his blue eyes warm. He loved telling stories, and it showed. At all of the lads' and lasses' responses of ‘no', his grin widened to a smile and he bent forward. "Many years ago," he began softly, so that all the young ones' eyes were fixed raptly upon him, "before there was ever any hobbits of any kind here in the Shire, nor any other type of race of Dwarves or Elves or Men who had yet set their boundaries or kingdoms, there lived a being known to us today simply as Old Man Green. Some say he looked like a Man, with a long beard and mussed clothing. Others say he looked like a Dwarf, short and plump. But one thing all agree on is that he loved the color green. Everything he owned was green, even his eyes were green. And he loved trees. Oaks, elms, maples, lindens, every type of tree that ever there was.

"But there was something missing. Old Man Green knew his heart despaired, and there came a time in winter when life brought him no joy." The children all leaned forward as Frodo's voice softened. "One day in the month of Foreyule, he realized that winter had no color. Everything was different in his time, so winter came with snow in every corner of the earth. If you ever see snow like that outside it seems so white and beautiful, but you begin to despair of ever seeing color and life again. And Old Man Green wept, because he felt that winter was a hopeless time bereft of laughter and joy, and because his trees slept during the cold season.

"He wanted to bring color back into the winter months, but how could he do it?" Frodo's hands illustrated the story, as he explained Old Man Green's dilemma and thought, and Bilbo found himself enraptured by the tale as much as the children were. Quite the storyteller, Frodo was. "He prayed to the Valar to bless him and send him a gift if they looked lovingly down upon him, and one morning he woke to find in the dawn's light a small, hardy tree already sprouting from the snow. This tree, so blessed by the Valar, would never sleep and would remain green all winter." Frodo held up the sprig of evergreen. "It was cone-shaped, this little tree, and its leaves were unlike any others-they were like needles, but soft and fine. Old Man Green loved his gift from the Valar and felt joy returned to him for the sight of life in which so much was barren and empty. He bestowed his own blessing upon it, and hoped that that when different peoples came to the land, they would draw pleasure and comfort from the trees' gentle presence, and try to draw strength from it-strength to persevere through any trial even through the darkest of times.

"Old Man green has long since disappeared from the world-no, not dead; merely moved on. But his small trees, which we have named evergreens remain. Each year the cold months come, and all the plants sleep-all but the evergreens. They show us life in a time of barren white."

After Frodo finished his tale, a hush fell upon the children and they all sat staring in wonder at the sprig that was the focus of the story. Even Gandalf sat thoughtfully, drawing on his pipe with a gleam of humor in his dark eyes. But finally Merry sat up tall on his knees.

"But why do we cover our mantles with it?" he asked curiously. "Each year we decorate our homes with boughs of evergreen. Why?"

Frodo smiled. "Well, it's said that the Fallohides were the first to discover the evergreens," he explained, "as they loved trees and woodlands. One day a father and his young son were searching for firewood in winter and they stumbled upon a grove of the trees. The son, seeing their beauty as they sat covered in snow, begged his father to cut some of the branches off to decorate their holes with. This is what started the tradition of cutting some of the limbs off and using them as yule decoration."

"Wow," came a collective breath from the children, still held enraptured from the tale. Frodo, however, broke the moment as easily as he had begun it by smiling widely and sitting up straight. "Well!" he said cheerfully, and the magic moment was suddenly gone. "You have had your tale, and now I believe it is time you went to your parents." And then the children were all stretching and blinking, almost like they couldn't believe what they had heard but still amazed just the same, and several were protesting, begging for Frodo to tell them another story. But he refused, telling them too many stories would spoil a good night's sleep, and finally they had to admit defeat.

"I'm gonna go home and tell Dad ‘bout Old Man Green!" cried one of the lads, and his shout seemed to allow the other children to get up and agree.

As the others were leaving, and Bilbo was overlooking their departures, Merry turned back to Frodo who still sat in his chair, now staring into the depths of the fire.

"Was your story true, Frodo?" he asked curiously.

Frodo looked over at his younger cousin, and smiled. "Every myth was once a truth," he answered cryptically, and Merry had to smile with him.

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Later that night, having seen the other children off to their parents and Merry and Pippin to bed, Bilbo walked into the living room to find Gandalf seated by the fireplace, smoking again, his gaze deep and thoughtful; Frodo, curled up in Bilbo's armchair, was fast asleep. The sight of his nephew's peaceful, sleeping face warmed his heart.

"Your Frodo is quite the storyteller," the wizard remarked in a low voice.

"Yes, isn't he?" Bilbo agreed proudly. He took a seat opposite him and gave a long sigh of contentment. He looked around slowly, taking in the sight of the decorated smial, smelling the scent of leftover ham and turkey. "Well, Gandalf, my friend," he said finally, "we've reached the end of a year and begun anew."

"Indeed," Gandalf conceded, dipping his head. "A time for new beginnings."

"I don't suppose you have any resolutions to keep this year?" Bilbo asked, grinning.

The wizard chuckled. "Not any you would understand." He blew a smoke ring for a moment, clearly lost in thought again, and Bilbo was content to let him speak at his own time. Finally, he continued. "I must leave in a few hours' time, my dear hobbit. I do apologize, but the White Council is meeting soon and I must be there to lend my voice."

"So soon, Gandalf?" Bilbo asked, lighting his own pipe. "Frodo and I were expecting you to stay with our hospitality for a few days yet."

"Yes, I know," the wizard said apologetically. "And I do regret that I disappointed the lad when I told him. He seemed very upset."

"He would be. He's very fond of you." Bilbo sighed. "The dear lad is so grown now-he doesn't seem to be a tweenager, but a fully-grown respectable gentlehobbit." He chuckled. "He's going to be twenty-four this year. It seems only yesterday that he was the shy orphan who was so stifled in Buckland."

"He's done a lot of growing since then," Gandalf said softly. "Frodo is a unique individual." He laughed suddenly. "Before he dropped off, Frodo gave me one of the cuttings of evergreen. Said it would remain green for a few weeks yet, so I could remember the story of Old Man Green and its meaning."

Bilbo looked over at the small figure resting in the armchair, smiling fondly. No words were needed to show how he felt. As the night wore on, he and Gandalf broke into a bottle of Bilbo's finest wine and toasted each other, and the time of new beginnings. As it neared midnight and a fresh dusting of snow was falling, Gandalf took his leave of his hospitable host and disappeared into the darkness.

Shivering from the cold, Bilbo closed Bag End's door and turned back to the warmth of the hearth and the picture-perfect scene laid out in front of him. After a long moment of taking another long sigh of contentment, he then grabbed hold of a home-spun blanket and draped it over his nephew. Frodo twitched but did not wake, and from his hand fell another sprig of evergreen. Bending down, Bilbo picked it up and slowly placed it on the mantle. He had suddenly grown quite attached to the little plant-a most remarkable thing, evergreen, just like Bilbo's Frodo Baggins.

A/N: Here's to hoping you have a wonderful Christmas. I do not own the song at the beginning-that is ‘Christmas Canon', by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.




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