Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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Amid all the hardship of 1391 and1392 there was one bright ray of sunshine in Hobbiton.  Bilbo and Frodo Baggins decided that they would host a Yule Feast.  It was usual for each family to share gifts and food within their own smials but Bilbo Baggins knew that it would be a sparse affair for most this year.

So it was that on a cold and windy evening the week before Yule, the coming feast was the main topic of conversation in the Ivy Leaf Tavern.

“I don’t hold with changin’ things,” Birky Bracegirdle asserted as he took a sip of his cider.  It was the same mug he had purchased two hours ago for, in common with most of the patrons, there were few coins to spare for cider this year.  And yet folk needed something to bring them together, so Borden Brewer would rather sell one half to each patron than have no patrons at all.

“I’m not a one for change myself but there’s to be free food and ale.  Borden there says Mr Baggins has paid him for the ale already,” Cal Brockside noted.  “I can only speak for mine but my missus were right worrited about providin’ our Yule Sup this year.” 

Ted Sandiman drew on his pipe and sent a cloud of fragrant smoke upward.  It joined the blue haze that always hung beneath the ceiling of the tap room.  If Borden noticed that the smoke did not hang as thickly this winter he made no comment.  Indeed, there were a few matrons who were rather pleased not to have to launder their husband’s shirts quite so often.  “Well, I aint sayin’ ‘No’, to a free supper.”

“Didn’t think you would,” muttered Cal, earning himself a glower from Ted.  Of all present, Ted was most able to afford to provide his own Yule Supper.

“Master Frodo says as how they always have a Yule Feast away down in Buckland,” Hamfast interjected. 

“And they say elves live in trees but that don’t mean it’s right fer hobbits,” Birky pronounced firmly. 

There was a long silence, in which all either took a sip of cider or drew on their pipes.  Ted was the first to speak up again.  “I hear Mad Baggins has paid Tom Cotton fer the use of his barn.”  He frowned.  “Might as well put it to some use fer it aint holdin’ no wheat.”

“Oh, he hasn’t paid,” Ham corrected.  “He offered, mind you, but Tom wouldn’t take no money.”

Ted snorted.  “Then he’s as touched as Baggins.  He could have asked a pretty penny fer the use.”

Several sets of eyes rolled ceiling-ward but it was Hamfast who said, “Not everyone is lookin’ to line their pockets at the expense of others.”

Ted had sense enough not to reply to that for he had been charging over the odds for milling since the storm.  His argument was that if he was asked to mill less grain he had to charge more if he was to feed his own family.  It was an argument many could have made but most had more altruistic natures.

“Well, I think tis a neighbourly gesture and me an’ mine is goin’ to the feast.”  Hamfast knocked out his spent pipe on the table edge.  “Seems to me that in some folks eyes Mister Bilbo can’t win.  If he don’t spend money he’s tight fisted and if he do, he’s showin’ off.” 

Ted Sandiman snorted.  “He’s mad as a box o’ frogs either way.”


The very next day Tom Carter made his way up the hill to Bag End, his wagon piled high with boxes and sacks.  Frodo Baggins met him at the gate and helped him unload the entire contents into Bag End’s expansive hallway.  Bilbo sent him on his way with two silver pennies for his efforts (twice the going rate).  He also pressed into his hands a bag containing two pounds of flour, with the injunction to hand it over to Tulip Carter to bake yule cakes for their faunts.  This almost reduced Tom to tears.

Once the door was closed Bilbo stood in the middle of his hallway, surrounded by their delivery, and performed a little jig.  “Frodo, my lad, this will be a Yuletide to remember.”

Frodo grinned at his uncles cavorting.  “And now it will be remembered for a good reason.”

His words brought Bilbo to a halt and he turned about slowly to survey their bounty.  “I don’t know how the elves managed it.  Some of these vegetables should not have survived the journey from Rivendell in this weather.”

Frodo lifted the cover from a shallow box and gasped.  “Bilbo, there are oranges in this box!  Oranges!  Where did Lord Elrond manage to find oranges in mid-winter and why haven’t they rotted?”

Bilbo shook his head, his grin returning.  “I’m blessed if I know, but I asked for his help and he provided.”  He bent to open a small sack, marked with the elvish runes for ‘wheat flour’.  Inside was a white powder so fine that it felt like cool silk in his palm.  “I don’t think we’ll have any trouble persuading Olin Baker to use this for his bread.”

“Nor Mistress Gamgee, if you’re still going to ask her to bake some pies.”  Frodo opened a larger box.  “There are plenty of apples in this one.”

“Of course I shall ask Bell to bake some of her prize winning apple pies.  And I shall be asking Rosemary Cornberry to bake some sponge cakes.  Is there any jam in that box to your left?”

Frodo lifted the lid on a solidly constructed wooden box.  Rummaging amongst the packing straw he discovered jars of pickles and jam, bottles of flavoured oils and tubs of deep yellow butter.  “There’s strawberry and raspberry jam and even a big jar of orange marmalade.”  Frodo grinned, for Lord Elrond obviously knew that Bilbo was fond of toast and marmalade for first breakfast.  It was no surprise, therefore, when his uncle sent him off to put the marmalade in Bag End’s capacious pantry.

When he returned, Bilbo was standing with pencil and paper, listing the foodstuffs.  “Give me a hand here, Frodo.  Once we’ve listed them and know what we have we will need to divide them up amongst those who have agreed to bake for the feast.”

Eager to see what other treasures may be stowed within the boxes and sacks, Frodo began to open them, calling out the contents to his uncle for listing.  They even discovered sweet, fresh cob nuts, their sack stamped with the clustered oak leaf of King Thranduil’s realm.

On the first day of the new year Hobbiton celebrated the return of light.  Nobody paid heed to the months of hardship to come before the next harvest and, for one day, they chose to live in celebration of Now.  There was music and dancing and everyone, from the oldest gammer to the youngest bairn in arms, had a full belly.  Many a toast was raised to Mister Bilbo Baggins, although that Gentlehobbit pretended not to hear them.  Even the Gamgees, who on the morrow would be waving off their daughter, chose to see this as an opportunity to celebrate together one last time.


Next morning, when many a Hobbiton resident was still sleeping off an excess of ale, there was a knock at the door of Bag End.  It was Bilbo who opened it to find a sombre May Gamgee on the step.

“You said as how I should come say, goodbye, afore I left.”

Bilbo smiled and beckoned her in, taking a moment to glance down the hill to see Tom Carter’s wagon outside Number Three.  No doubt Bell was offering him a cup of tea.  “Indeed I did, Miss May.  Come into the kitchen.  May I offer you a cup of tea?  Frodo and I were just starting first breakfast.”

May wiped her feet on the mat before following Bilbo down the polished hallway.  “I thank you for the offer, sir, but Tom Carter is wantin’ to be away.  Widow Rumble says there’s rain comin’.”  She stepped into Bag End’s well-appointed kitchen and took a moment to look about her, for she supposed she must get used to such grand rooms if she was to work in Great Smials.

Bag End’s kitchen was actually no bigger than that of Number Three.  It had the same large table in the centre, with benches either side and a large cooking range in the middle of one wall.  There the similarity ended, for in her family home the kitchen served as parlour too and here fancy china gleamed upon the painted and finely carved dresser. 

Master Frodo was lifting the kettle as she entered and he grinned.  “Morning, May.  All packed?”

His sunny smile was infectious it seemed, for May found her own face responding.  “Yes, sir.  I am.  Not that I’ve much to take.  The Thain’s lady said as how she would give me a uniform when I get there.”

Mister Baggins lifted two parcels from the table and held them out to her.  “And that’s what made us invite you here this morning.  These are for you, from Frodo and me.”

May’s eyes widened.  “For me?”  She unconsciously wiped her hands on her apron before reaching out to accept them.  “But, tis past the time for Yule giftin’.”

Frodo poured water into the teapot.  “Oh, this isn’t a Yule gift.  This is a New Beginnings gift.”

May’s brows drew down.  “There ain’t no such thing, beggin’ your pardon, Master Frodo.”

Bilbo chuckled.  “Well, there is now.  You will be given a uniform but you won’t want to be wearing it on your days off.”  He winked.  “Even parlour maids go to parties on occasion.”  He took back the parcels when she made no move to open them, and set them back on the table.  “Come on, now.  Open them up.”

Once more, May wiped her hands before parting the brown paper, her wide brown eyes beginning to shimmer as she revealed a length of fine white linen.  She slid a palm beneath one layer, and a tear slid down her cheek as she saw her own flesh through the fabric.  “I ain’t never seen a linen so fine,” she whispered.

Frodo beamed.  “That’s my gift.  It’s came all the way from Rivendell.  It was woven by elves.”

May flinched as though scalded, and she swallowed before she could meet his blue gaze.  “Tis too fine for me.  I thank you for the thought sir, but I wouldn’t dare cut it.”

It was Bilbo who replied, however.  “Nonsense, young lady.  Your mother tells me you’ve a neat hand with a needle and I cannot think of a lass who would look prettier in it.  Now, open mine.”

With an almost dreamlike air, May set aside Frodo’s gift and opened the other package, which proved to be more fabric.  This one was soft fine wool in a warm gold the colour of autumn leaves.  Bilbo nodded approvingly.  “I knew that colour would go well with your hair.”

More tears rolled down May’s cheeks and she had to fish about in her skirt pocket for a hanky.  She folded the fabric away, reverentially.  “Tis beautiful, Mister Baggins.  I don’t hardly know what to say.  You’ve been so good to me, gettin’ me this position and all.  And now this.”

Bilbo helped her repackage the cloths.  “It was the least I could do.  I know I speak for Frodo as well when I say that your parents have given us more than we can say.  I suspect that, had you a choice, you would have preferred to stay at home, but you have made a great sacrifice and we wanted to honour you.”  He had to pause to clear his throat.  “You are a brave lass, May Gamgee.”

On a sudden, May jumped forward to give Bilbo a strong hug.  For a moment he froze, then his arms came around her.  “I have no doubt that you will do well, but if you ever feel that you cannot cope, you come back to us.  We’ll find another way through.”

May stepped back and dabbed at her eyes again.  “Thank you, sir.”

Bilbo swiped at his own eyes and turned her toward the door.  “Come on, now.  Tom Carter will be wondering where you have go to.”

Frodo picked up her packages and followed them to the door.  As he handed them over May reached up to plant a chaste kiss upon his cheek.  “Thank you, too, Master Frodo.”

Before either Baggins could say another word she fled down the path, their gifts clutched close to her bosom.



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