Bell's Table by elwen of the hidden valley

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Sam stood on tiptoe to ring the bell hanging beside Bag End’s round green door.   As he waited for what felt to the youngster a very long while, he studied the sky.   It was overcast and he hoped Old Widow Rumble was right when she had told him that it would not rain today.  A loud groan of hinges announced the opening of Bag End’s door and he spun about to discover himself face to weskit with Mister Bilbo.

“Hello Sam.  What brings you out on this cold afternoon?”

“Beggin’ your pardon, Mister Bilbo, but Da sent me to ask if you was needin’ any greenery for the yule decoratin’ in Bag End.  Only me and Halfred and Da is goin’ into the woods to collect some.”

Bilbo smiled down at the lad.  “How very good of you.   But I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.  I bought a few sprigs of holly at market yesterday.”  He bent down to whisper, “Between you and me they’re a bit straggly, but they’ll do in a pinch.”

Samwise drew himself up to his full height to announce with some certainty, “Oh, my big brother, Halfred, knows where there’s some mistletoe and Da always finds the best holly bushes.  Nobody else knows about ‘em.  We can bring you some pretty stuff.”

Bilbo considered for a moment.  “Very well.  If you think you can manage to carry enough for Bag End as well, yes, I would love some.”

Sam beamed.  “We’re goin’ to take the handcart so we’ll be able to get lots.”  He spun about to race back down the hill, shouting over his shoulder, “Goodbye Mister Bilbo.”

Bilbo closed the door pausing once inside to chuckle at the exuberance of the very young.  Frodo stepped out of the parlour, hefting a set of ladders.  “Was that Sam Gamgee?”

“It was.  You had better leave those here for it seems we are to have lots of decorating to do upon his return.”

Frodo sighed with relief as he leaned them against the wall and blew hair out of his eyes.  “I thought you had decided not to do too much decorating this Yuletide.”

His comment was met with a sniff.  “Well, I’ve changed my mind.  Come and help me mix the Yule pudding.  Then we need to put some oil on that door hinge.”

Frodo grinned.  There was just no telling what Burglar Baggins would do next.  That was one of the things he liked most about his uncle.  Bilbo could be infuriating, absent minded, even self-absorbed upon occasion, but he was never predictable.

It was dark by the time Sam, Halfred and their father, Hamson Gamgee, came ringing at Bilbo’s door again.  Light spilled out from the hallway to reveal a handcart piled high with the deep, glossy sheen of holly, the vibrant glow of red berries, blue green spikes of sweet scented pine and pale green and white clusters of mistletoe. 

“Oh my!  You three must have worked like an army of beavers to collect all that in just a few hours.”

Ham chuckled.  “T’were a hard afternoon’s work I’ll grant you but twas worth it.  Just let me know how much of this you’ve a fancy to and me and Halfred will bring it in for you.  No sense in all of us getting scratched.”  He held out his hands to show liberal smears of blood amongst the grime.

“Oh dear.  Holly does not like to be cut, does it?  But shouldn’t you find out how much Bell needs for your smial first?  I know how she loves to decorate for Yule.”

Ham and Hal began tugging at the holly.  “Oh, she’s had her pick and Daisy and May are goin’ to be busy tonight I can tell you,” Hamfast assured him.  “No Sam.  Don’t you go touchin’ the mistletoe.  Leave that to the grown-ups.” 

“Just pile it in the corner over there if you would,” Bilbo advised.  “I think just one clump of mistletoe and perhaps half of the holly and pine that you have there.”  He stood back as Hamfast and Halfred began dragging branches into the hall.  “How much would you like for them?”

Frodo appeared from the kitchen, blinking when he saw the green bounty.  “Hello Master Gamgee, Halfred.  Surely that is not all for us?”

Hamfast paused to acknowledge the young master before adding a large clump of mistletoe to the top of heap.  “Bless you, Mister Bilbo.  I don’t want no money from you.  Look on it as a Yule gift from the Gamgees to the Baggins.”

Halfred winked.  “We’ll sell the rest at market tomorrow.  There’s always someone leaves it ‘til last minute and tis much better than the stuff Sandon Grubb was sellin’ the other day.  I reckon this were an afternoon well spent.  Mayhap we should try it every year.”

Hamfast tutted.  “Not every year, lad.  Give the poor trees time to regrow.  It don’t pay to be too greedy with nature.”  He touched fingers to his forelock.  “We’ll say goodnight, sir.  My Bell will be waitin’ supper on us and no doubt you’ll be wantin’ yours.”  He nodded to the wooden spoon in Frodo’s hand and the lad grinned.

“Goodnight Hamfast.  And thank you for the gift.  I’ll see you at the celebration tomorrow.” 

Hamfast and Halfred headed back down the hill with their much lighter cart while little Sam Gamgee skipped on ahead to number three.

-0-

“Have you the kindling bag, Frodo?”  Bilbo grunted as he made final adjustments to the huge oak log in the parlour fireplace, setting loose a soft expletive when one of the sprigs of holly decorating it scratched his wrist.

“Here, Uncle.  It took some finding.  What was it doing in your study?”  Frodo held out the small hemp bag and Bilbo opened it, scattering ashes and small lumps of charred wood from last year’s yule log around the base of this years.

“I seem to remember having an idea for a translation that I was working on at the time.  I thought I’d better write it down before I forgot so I set the bag on my desk.”  Bilbo shrugged.  “Then things got away from me, and for the rest of the year I just kept moving it from place to place.”

Frodo giggled.  “You mean, from pile to pile.”

Both Baggins stood back to admire their day’s labour.   The mantle and window sills were all but hidden beneath swags of holly and pine, with a few pinecones and some red ribbon bows for good measure.  Sprigs of mistletoe hung on either side of the freshly scrubbed fireplace and pale candles stood ready in every sconce.  The room was filled with the scent of greenery, laced with beeswax, mingled with the spicy richness of mulled wine and baking that drifted in from the kitchen. 

Bilbo clapped his nephew on the shoulder.  “Not a bad job if I say so myself.  Is the bonfire ready down the hill?”

Frodo nodded.  “I helped Mister Gamgee haul up the holly crown myself.  It looks rather grand.  We didn’t have that tradition in Buckland.  Is it true that everyone will be coming to the bonfire?”

“Oh yes.  All are welcome at the Yule fire.”  Bilbo glanced toward the window.  “Speaking of fires, I think I see the first star so we’d best light our own.  Being top of the hill, so to speak, it all starts with us.”

Half a dozen eager steps brought Frodo to the parlour window.  Sure enough, although it was getting dark, not a candle showed down in Hobbiton.  “Goodness.  It looks so sad with no lights.  But for the kitchen chimney smoke you’d think it was deserted.”

Bilbo took flint from his pocket and bent to the hearth, beckoning Frodo to join him.  “Then let’s make sure they don’t sit in darkness for much longer.”  He struck flint to the kindling in the hearth and blew gently.  The wood shavings caught first, their edges shimmering yellow as each curl burned from outside to centre.  Soft wisps of grey smoke drifted through the larger twigs and soon they caught, spitting and cracking.  The charred wood from last yule’s log kindled next, its light more blue than yellow as it licked at the green of the holly leaves decorating this years.  Finally, the yule log began to char.  It had been drying out for weeks so that it would burn well but it was the bark that took first, whistling as steam escaped through cracks, followed by tiny spurts of yellow flame.

Keeping another for himself, Frodo handed his uncle a twig of dry holly, its leaves curled and brittle for it had been cut some days before. 

“Time to say goodbye to the old year, lad.”  They knelt together before the fragrant fire for some time, each contemplating the events of the past year.  Both smiled softly as they came to the independent conclusion that there had been more good than bad.  It was Bilbo who leaned forward first, flicking his holly into the growing flames.  Frodo followed suit only a moment later.

The older hobbit clapped his hands and grinned at his nephew.  “Now that we’ve dispensed with the old year, let’s start the new one.”  He selected a twig from the kindling basket, lighting it from the fire and then setting it to the wick of a large fat candle offered reverently by Frodo.  As the golden glow began to light their faces they recited the yule blessing together.  “May we have hearth to comfort, fire to cook and candle to guide us home.”

Frodo stood, shielding the delicate flame as he crossed to the window and placed it in a lantern set amongst the greenery; Hobbiton’s first light of the new year.  Bilbo brought another lantern and its candle was lit from the one in the window.  Frodo ran into the hall to collect their cloaks as his uncle took a moment to place a wire guard before the fire.

As they made their way down the hill Frodo saw folk drifting out of their darkened smials, to stand in their gardens.  Someone from each smial held an unlit candle.  Bilbo stopped at the gate of number three.  “Yuletide greetings to you, Hamfast.”

“And to you, Mister Bilbo.” 

Bilbo opened the door of his lantern and Hamfast reached in to touch his candle to the one burning warmly within.  As the wick caught Bilbo bowed, intoning, “May you have hearth to comfort, fire to cook and candle to guide you home.” 

Frodo saw now that the whole Gamgee family was standing in their darkened doorway.  Bell stepped forward solemnly to light a candle from her husbands and, followed by the girls, took it indoors to light their own yule log and set a lantern in the window of number three’s kitchen.

Hamfast stepped on down the lane, followed by Frodo and Bilbo, to where Harry Mugwort waited at the gate to number two Bagshot Row.  Ham offered greeting then repeated the blessing as he watched Harry light his own candle and pass the flame to his mother, Clover Mugwort.  The yule log was lit at their home and the flame passed by Harry, to Arty Sedgeburry.

Slowly the yule flame passed from hand to hand.  From their high point half way down the hill, Bilbo and Frodo watched little pinpoints of golden light bob from smial to smial, spreading outward along all the lanes of Hobbiton.   Frodo was reminded of a morning glory, spreading open her petals to the sun.  Soon a candle shone in every window and a log blazed in every hearth. 

Then the light merged from single points to groups and then lines as it contracted once more, converging upon the Party Field at the foot of the lane.  The residents of the hill formed a golden river of their own, that moved off to merge with others until there was a long candle lit procession, with Bilbo at the front.  Excited faunts skipped along at their parents’ side whilst others, too sleepy, were carried in father’s arms.  Kitchen chairs were dressed with ribbons and pressed into use to carry the old folk and, here and there, a good natured jibe was muttered about dropping some particularly cantankerous aunty.  There would be music and singing on the way home but now there were only whispered greetings and the occasional reedy voice of a faunt. 

All Hobbiton formed a circle about the huge bonfire in the Party Field, waiting.

Once more it was Bilbo who stepped forward with his lantern.  Lifting out the candle, he pushed it deep into the centre of the holly crowned pile that stood three times as tall as a hobbit.  Once more smoke curled, wood crackled and an orange glow began to peep through the carefully stacked branches and logs.  Youngsters cheered as the  first sparks flew heavenward.

Other candles were lobbed into the growing blaze as folk joined hands about the fire.  With one voice the cry went up,

“Tis the time of endings.

Tis the time of beginnings.

Health, Hope and Happiness.

Light, Love and Laughter.

Prosperity and Peace to all!”

Bilbo turned to hug those closest and found Frodo.  “Health, hope and happiness, lad.”

Frodo’s bright eyes brimmed with life and he grinned as he was released.  “Light, love and laughter, Bilbo.”

Bilbo drew him into another hug.  “Prosperity and peace to us all.”

Behind them someone struck up a drum and the first few notes of the Yule Circle sang out from a fiddle.  Bilbo grabbed Frodo’s hand and Buttercup Rumble took his other as all around the fire a circle was formed.  A chord was struck and the circle began to move as everyone’s feet trod the age-old pattern.

His feet long used to the ancient measure Bilbo used the time to watch his nephew.  The lad’s face was filled with a light that had nothing to do with the glow of the fire about which they danced.  Bilbo had to shout to be heard over the voices of the singers.  “I’m so glad you’re here to share Yule with me this year, Frodo.”

Frodo face broke into a joyous grin.  “Oh, so am I, Uncle.  So am I.”

Their voices joined the chorus while, before them, the bonfire sent showers of golden sparks upward to blend with Elbereth’s silver stars, wheeling in their own ageless circle about the night sky. 

 

 




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