In Memory of Frodo by Pipmer

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Story Notes:

This Yule Fic is dedicated to Connie (Garnet Took). I hope this meets
with your approval, dear! 


IN MEMORY OF FRODO

Sam sighed sadly as he stepped into his home and looked around. Yes,
Bag End was now his home, and had been for two months now; he could
still scarcely believe it.

As it was now one week into Foreyule, decorations adorned the living
area of the large smial. Red and green ribbon adorned the
mantelpiece, and the edges of the main door as it opened into the
smial, and the kitchen and hall doorways as they led off into the
interior. A wreath of pine branches was nailed above the fireplace,
and blue candles in silver candle-holders were placed on either end
of the mantelpiece. Wood holders filled with pine cones were places
at the farthest corners of the living room, adding a nice, spicy
aroma to the holiday atmosphere. Sprigs of holly branches were
attached to the corners of the doors, and a twig of mistletoe hung in
the shadowed, far right corner of the room.

The first two years back, Merry and Pippin had celebrated at Brandy
Hall and Great Smials, respectively, whereas Sam had celebrated the
first year back with his Gaffer and Marigold; the second year had
been spent at the Cotton's with Frodo, Rosie and her family. By that
time Bell had passed, and Marigold had married Tom. Now this year,
the remaining Travellers decided they would celebrate together, in
Frodo's home, surrounded by memories of their cousin and master.
Rosie and the baby would spend the first two and the last two days of
Yuletide at Bag End with her husband and the two bachelor cousins;
then, they were set to spend first and second Yule with her parents,
Jolly and Nibs. The remainder of her siblings were spending Yule
with their respective spouses' families. It would be just the
remaining three Travellers, left alone to fend for themselves
domestically, which meant that Sam would be doing most of the
preparations for the feasting, since he was the best cook out of the
three. Pippin couldn't boil water to save his life. Merry would be
a bit of a help; he cooked for Estella often.

Sam took off his cloak and placed it on its peg, then stepped into
the living area. He wondered, not for the first time, if it had been
a mistake to decorate this year, seeings how Mr. Frodo was no longer
here. But he had dismissed that idea as soon as it had come to him.
After all, Yule had been Frodo's favourite time of the year, and he
would want the inhabitants of Bag End to celebrate it. Mr. Frodo had
not died, so mourning at a time like this had seemed very
inappropriate.

Shaking off his melancholy, Sam strode into the kitchen, wrapped his
arms around Rose's waist and kissed the back of her head. "I'm back,
love; when's dinner?"

--------------------------------

Pippin sat in Merry's study, chewing on the end of a graphite stick.
He was trying to write a letter to the lass he was courting, Begonia
Burrows, but for once, the words would not come. He usually waxed
poetic when writing to Begonia; that was one of the things that had
won her heart, that Pippin would pour his feelings into words so
effortlessly. But now, his mind seemed to have dried up. Where was
Merry when he needed him? Merry could always think of the right
words.

Sighing, Pippin finally balled up the parchment he had been writing
on, and tossed it into the trash. He didn't know what he could
possibly write that would make up for the last conversation they had
had. Before Frodo had left, Pippin and Begonia had planned on
joining his family for Yule that year, and Begonia had been very
excited about the prospect. She was a very social hobbitess, and
looked forward eagerly to meeting the large family that ensconced
themselves at Great Smials. She was normally a very sweet-natured
person as well; she didn't like confrontation, and normally would
agree to any change of plans that presented itself along the way.
But when Pippin had tried to explain to her that he, Merry and Sam
wanted to celebrate Yule quietly at Bag End this year, she had not
understood. Not only were they no longer spending Yule at Great
Smials; she was not invited to attend at Bag End with Pippin, and
that hurt her deeply. She couldn't understand why Rosie could be
there and not her. Pippin had tried to explain that Sam and Rosie
had lived at Bag End with Frodo for a time, so she was considered
family. Begonia, on the other hand, had never even met Frodo.

Pippin scowled to himself. He and Begonia had been getting along
just fine up until now, and he had even fancied himself in love for
the first time in his short life. It was times like these that he
envied Merry's choice of lass in Estella. Estella never pushed Merry
to spend time with her, understanding that he and Pippin needed time
to themselves at Crickhollow due to their experiences during the
Quest. Begonia did understand, for the most part, but at times could
prettily pout in order to garner more of Pippin's attention and
time. Maybe it was the difference in age; after all, Begonia was
only 28, three years Pippin's junior, while Estella was 36, having
come of age three years ago. At any rate, if she didn't come around
soon, Pippin was afraid he was going to have to call things off with
Begonia, and that never reflected well on a lass.

Oh well. He knew that spending Yule this year at Bag End, with only
Sam and Merry, would be the way of it. The three remaining
Travellers needed this respite in order to take a deep breath and
take the time to remember Frodo properly. Of course there had been
no funeral. A memorial would have been wasted on the other hobbits
of the Shire, since it would have only mattered to the three of them;
the three who knew what it had been like out in the wide world. They
had all been so busy after Frodo had left, that they hadn't been able
to properly take some time aside, just the three of them, to
reminisce about their good friend and cousin. Sam had been busy with
his little family, and in tying up all the legal matters pertaining
to Bag End. Merry had his duties and training as the Master of
Buckland's apprentice, plus his courtship of Estella, whom he had
started seeing about a year ago. Pippin also had to put his time in
with his studies and work as the Thain's assistant, in preparation
for his future duties. And he had been getting to know Begonia, whom
he had met during the Free Fair during Lithe this past summer. They
needed to take this time, so that they could properly move on from
here.

--------------------------

Merry whistled a tune as he walked down the corridor towards his
father's study. He had received a letter from Estella from the post
an hour ago, and he was feeling fine. How lucky was he to have
landed such a stellar lass as Estella? Maybe he would even marry her
one day!

Not even the impending confrontation with his father could dampen his
spirits. He knew that Saradoc couldn't hold anything over him, since
he had been of age for six years now, but standing in front of his
irate father always seemed to make him feel like he was a little lad
of twelve again, with his hands caught in Farmer Maggot's mushroom
patch. Today, however, he wasn't going to take any guff from his
father, no matter how stern Saradoc tried to be. After all, he was a
grown gentlehobbit!

If anyone could understand why Merry wanted to spend this Yule alone
with Sam and Pippin, Saradoc should have been able to. He had been
Frodo's foster-father for 10 years, raising him as his own along with
Merry. He and Esmeralda had always been close with their younger
cousin, doing everything in their power to make him feel welcome and
loved within their little family. But then again, what it always
came down to was the fact that neither Saradoc nor Esmeralda had been
on the Quest, and could not know what intense bonding occurred
between already close hobbits. Nobody could understand, except for
the Fellowship, and the only ones of that exclusive group in the
Shire right now were Merry, Pippin and Sam. For the Valar's sake,
even Estella understood! Why couldn't his father see reason?

Before he knew it, Merry was faced with the door to his father's
study. Taking a deep breath, he knocked twice. "Enter", came the
deep voice from within. Merry steeled himself as he turned the
doorknob and walked into the study.

Miracle of all miracles, Saradoc was smiling as he got up from behind
his desk and approached his son. Also, there was another person
present for this meeting that Merry thought was only between him and
his father; his mother was sitting off to the side on the sofa that
was placed in here for less formal meetings.

"Merry! We're so glad you're here." Saradoc enveloped his son in a
huge bear-hug, which wasn't hard to do, given Saradoc's size. "Have
a seat next to your mother, Son." Merry tentatively walked towards
his mother and the sofa, not knowing what kind of greeting to expect
from her, after having voiced her opinion quite adamantly on what she
thought of Merry spending Yule away from Brandy Hall this year.

Esmeralda got up and embraced her son, clinging to him like a
drowning hobbit to a life preserver. She started crying softly as
she released her son. "Merry, your father and I have been acting
badly. We've come to the conclusion that you won't disappear on us
like …. like you did three years ago." She gave Merry a watery smile
as she sat back down. Merry sat down next to her, holding her hands
in his and looking her in the eye.

"Mum, of course I won't just `disappear'…. I thought you understood
why we left so suddenly that time. I thought that was all behind us."

"We do, Son," Saradoc said. Merry looked at his father
questioningly. "In our heads, we know that what you had to do was
for the benefit of all of Middle Earth, and that you couldn't leave
Frodo to bear the burden alone. We understand that, and have
understood that since you first came home and explained everything.
It's our hearts that are having a hard time moving on, Merry. That
first Yule you were gone…. Why, we didn't know if you were even
alive, let alone where you were." Esmeralda made a strangled sound,
and Merry put his arm around her and rubbed her shoulder. "Then your
first Yule back, we were so grateful that we had you and your cousins
back with us that we didn't even think to be angry at you. Last Yule
was more like old times, since everything was back to normal by
then. We were just hoping for a repeat of last year, that's all.
And then Frodo up and left again…." Saradoc swallowed hard, and
tried to sublimate his anger for Merry's sake. According to Merry,
Frodo had had no choice; he was in poor health, and he could receive
healing from the Elves. However, the manner of his leaving left much
to be desired, in Saradoc's opinion. Instead of saying proper
farewells to people who would sorely miss him, he just up and left
without even telling Merry and Pippin that he was leaving! It was
like a repeat of him leaving for the Quest all over again… except
this time, he went alone, and he would not be returning.

"It's crazy, I know," Esmeralda said, "but part of us were half –
expecting you and Pippin to follow Frodo, just like you did last
time. I know that you can't follow Frodo where he's gone this time;
but the fear is there all the same. But," Esme smiled at her son,"
it's time that we learned to let go a bit. After all, you are 39
years old, and on your way to marriage, it seems to me." Merry
blushed. "So we're going to have to loosen our ties sometime, and
now is just as good a time as any. Go spend Yule at Bag End, Merry,
with Pippin and Sam. Go with our blessing, and we hope that it will
help bring you closure. I only wish, "she murmured, half to
herself, "that your father and I could get some closure as well. We
loved Frodo dearly."

"And he loved you," Merry said gently. "He wasn't even going to say
goodbye to me, Mum, and I'm probably the closest one to him, besides
Bilbo and Sam. I don't agree with how he left, either, but
apparently he felt that that was the way to go about it. I still get
angry at him sometimes, Mum. I thought that if I could spend time
alone, with Pippin and Sam, at Bag End, surrounded by memories of
Frodo, that perhaps I would at last come to some kind of peace about
it. Does that make any sense?"

"Yes, it does," Saradoc said. "Forgive us, son, for making things
more difficult for you than they had to be."

"I understand," Merry replied in his cheerful manner. "As long as
you understand why I have to do this."

"We do," Esmeralda assured her son. "We'll miss you, of course, and
Pippin as well. Estella will miss you too, " she added cheekily.
Any mention of Estella never failed to elicit a blush from Merry.

"I'll miss you, and her, as well," grinned Merry. "I promise that
next year, I will spend the entire month of Foreyule here, at Brandy
Hall, whether or not I'm still living at Crickhollow. Agreed?"

"Agreed!" his parents both enthused as one.

-----------------------------------------------

Sam sat in Frodo's study, behind the huge, polished walnut desk,
tapping his teeth with his quill. He was preparing for Merry and
Pippin's stay a week from now, and he wanted everything to be just
perfect. He had the menu for the six days drawn up and set aside to
his right. In front of him, he was writing up his surprise on ten
separate pieces of paper. He hoped that his friends wouldn't be
above such yule traditions. The gentry differed decidedly from the
working class on how they celebrated yule, and this was one of the
things he hoped they wouldn't turn up their noses at. Well, Frodo
went along with it last year, so what was good enough for Frodo would
have to be good enough for his cousins.

Today Sam had been busy. He had went to market to buy all the
foodstuffs he would require for six days, and stocked the pantry
full. He had cut down the tree that was to be used for the yule log,
and it was lying in the little copse of woods on Bag End's property
waiting to be hauled to the hearth on the day before 1st Yule for the
annual burning. He had finished decorating the outside of Bag-End
with garland and ribbons of gold, silver and blue. The pathway
leading up to Bag End from the road was lined with paper lanterns,
waiting to be lit on the evenings before 1st Yule and 2nd Yule. The
two fir trees flanking the right side of Bag End were adorned with
red garland and a silver star at the tops, signifying, of course,
Earendil's star. A small spruce tree had been cut and put into a
stand near the hearth in the living room, and would be decorated with
many walnut shells filled with oil and a wick in preparation for its
lighting on the first eve of Merry and Pippin's arrival. The walnut
shells had already been prepared, and were just waiting for the oil
and the wicks to be added. Right now, the little spruce tree was
decorated with a string of cranberries that had been grown in the
marshes in Long Cleeve.

Sam was finally taking a much-needed respite. He was a bit nervous,
truth be told, about Merry and Pippin's arrival. He wanted
everything to be perfect. He wondered how the absence of Frodo was
going to affect the interaction between the three of them. He had
always been a bit shy around the two cousins. Of course, he and
Frodo had been very comfortable around each other by the time they
arrived home from the Quest. But Merry and Pippin still managed to
bring out the subservient in him. It wasn't that they treated him
like a servant; no, quite the opposite. They were very laid-back and
friendly, going out of their way to make Sam feel at home around
them. They were always joking and light-hearted around him. But it
was hard for Sam to break old habits. He hadn't been through the
same experiences with them like he had with Frodo. Frodo had ended
up feeling like a brother to Sam, even though they were actually
master and servant. With what the two of them had been through, it
couldn't be any other way. Merry and Pippin still remained enigmas
to him. After all, they were the scions to the two most powerful
families in the Shire, and that fact in and of itself served to make
Sam self-conscious. He knew, though, that once the two cousins had
arrived that he would immediately relax. They had a way about them
that put others at their ease..... even uptight gardeners.

Sam started to relax in spite of himself. The busyness of the day
had taken its toll, and Sam was exhausted. He only realized it as he
sat here, finally allowing his body and mind to rest. He would sleep
well tonight. Good thing, too, because he still had a lot to do
before the cousins arrived.

Elanor's soft crying from her bedroom intruded on Sam's thoughts, and
he smiled. This may be the first Yule without Mr. Frodo, but it was
also Elanor's very first Yule... something to celebrate, indeed. One
could not forgot the joy along with the bittersweet.

--------------------------------

Pippin had finally gotten his letter written to Begonia; he hoped
that she would come around and see reason. The decision had already
been made to have her spend Yule with her family while he was at Bag
End, but the lass could surely argue herself blue. His letter was
full of promises to make it up to her, partly by agreeing to help
plan her birthday party in Solmath and to hold it at Crickhollow.
Merry and Pippin were renowned for their parties since coming home
from the Quest, and Begonia made it plain that if she and Pippin were
to spend Yule apart, then her birthday was to be something special,
and a grand party would help make it so.

Pippin was definitely having second thoughts about his lass. She
seemed like a different person these past few weeks; she used to be
so thoughtful and accommodating, but lately she was acting very self-
absorbed. Begonia was an only child, so she was used to getting her
way; she was the apple of her father's eye, and she could do no
wrong. She was probably bad-mouthing Pippin to him right now. Her
mother died five years ago, so it was just the two of them; they only
had each other to turn to, and it never took much cajoling to get him
to see her point of view. That was how she convinced him to let
Pippin court her; she literally wore him down by pleading with him
day after day, until he finally relented. Of course, the fact that
Pippin was the Thain's son didn't hurt, either, and also the
reputation he had for being one of the heroes of the Quest.

At any rate, now Pippin had plenty to keep his mind occupied leading
up to Yule. Today he was going to Bucklebury to do his gift-
shopping. He already had his gifts for his mother, father and
sisters, but they wouldn't be receiving them until the night of the
twelfth of Afteryule, commonly called Twelfth Night in that it was
the twelfth night of the New Year. It was traditionally a day spent
only with the immediate family for a more intimate celebration...
including, of course, more feasting and drinking!

Pippin sobered as he thought of his idea, and wondered how the others
would react.... if they would think he had cracked. He certainly
didn't want to offend anyone, but he felt that he had to do it. It
was just symbolic, of course, and wasn't this the whole reason they
were getting together like this to begin with? To remember Frodo
from years gone by, and to pay tribute to the great sacrifice that he
had made, for not only the Shire, but the whole of Middle Earth?

Deciding that he didn't care what the others thought, Pippin tucked
his thoughts about Frodo's gift in the back of his mind, and prepared
to do some gift-shopping.

----------------------------------

Merry sighed contentedly as he surveyed his work. He had started it
on the day after Frodo left, and had just added the finishing touches
to it a few moments ago. More than two full months of effort had
gone into it, and he was proud of the result.

After he had seen Pippin off to Bucklebury, Merry had gone into his
study and retrieved the secret from his locked, bottom drawer. He
knew that Pippin used his study at times, so he made sure this had
been locked safely away. He wanted it to be a surprise for everybody
on 1st Yule. As he studied his creation, his thoughts flew back to
two and a half years ago....

He and Frodo had been sitting in the house provided to them in Minas
Tirith. Both sat with their feet up on an ottoman, lazily smoking
their pipes. It was windy outside, and the green draperies billowed
slightly as the breeze blew gently. Merry and Frodo had the house to
themselves today. Pippin was on duty, and Sam was out shopping for
food supplies, as the food had run low, trying to keep four hobbits
constantly fed. Aragorn and Gandalf were off somewhere; they had
been very secretive about where they were going. Legolas and Gimli
were off exploring one of the lower levels, taking notes as to what
kind of work needed to be done once the Elves and Dwarves arrived to
help with the stonemasonry and the gardening.

"What are you thinking about, Meriadoc?" Frodo asked pleasantly,
blowing a smoke ring into the air.

Merry smiled at Frodo. "I'm thinking about what life will be like
when we get back home. Especially what it will be like for you.
After all you've been through, to finally get home and get on with
your life again... especially without that cursed Thing preying on
your thoughts. It must have had an effect on you, after having it
all those years, Frodo. I'll bet that things will feel vastly
different. Maybe you'll even find a sweet lass to settle down with.
I seem to remember Pippin's sister Pearl giving you eyes." Merry
winked.

Something flickered across Frodo's features; was it unease? "Yes,
I'm sure things will be different than they were before," Frodo
replied carefully. "Looking back, I can see the effect the Ring had
on my life... very subtle things. Like the fact that I didn't feel
comfortable with the idea of courting a lass. It was like the Ring
was very jealous of my affections. It even affected my relationships
with you and Pippin. I only allowed you to get just so close, and
then I'd withdraw emotionally. It was like what happened when I was
planning to leave the Shire, how I kept you all at arm's length for
fear that you'd figure something out. And you did, too... you're
too clever by half, Merry."

"Well, now Its influence will no longer be gnawing at you. Don't you
already feel so much freer without it?"

"Yes.... and no. In a way, it feels like a limb has been amputated.
I was so used to It being there, and now that it's not... Don't get
me wrong, I feel tremendous relief that the Thing is no longer around
my neck. It was a very heavy burden, especially at the end. But
during those 17 years that I had it, it very insidiously insinuated
itself into my thoughts. I feel relief, yes... but I also feel less
whole, more damaged. I feel.... like I'm being pulled in two
different directions. I don't know......" Frodo's voice faded into
the silence.

"You don't know what, Frodo?" Merry asked, concerned.

"I don't know if I'll ever be fully healed."

Merry brought himself back to the present. Tears welled in his eyes
as he gazed at his finished product. If only Frodo were here to see
this.... but it was not to be, could never be, and wasn't worth
crying over. Merry angrily dashed his tears away, berating himself
for being an idiot. He almost found himself destroying the thing,
but stopped himself in shock. Trembling, he sat down in his chair,
put his face in his hands, and sobbed his misery away.

-------------------------------------------

"Mister Merry! Master Pippin! Come in, come in, dinner is almost
ready." Rosie greeted the two hobbits cheerily as she led them into
Bag End, taking their cloaks and scarves. Merry and Pippin swept the
snow off of their feet, and entered the smial.

"It smells so good in here, Rosie; what is it we're having for
dinner? Pippin asked cheerily.

"We're having roast pork, Master Pippin," Rosie replied pleasantly.

"Oh, Rosie, come now... it's just Merry and Pippin. Please?" Pippin
flashed Rosie his most charming grin, and she practically melted
underneath it.

"Of course, M.... Pippin. We're also having cranberry sauce, green
bean casserole, mashed and boiled potatoes, and baby carrots. For
dessert, we have apple pie with clotted cream."

"Oh sounds heavenly," Merry sighed. "After two days of travelling in
the cold snow, it is most inviting."

Merry and Pippin had stabled their ponies back at the Green Dragon
before they had showed up at the door with their packs. Both
automatically made their way to 'their' room, the room they always
shared when staying at Bag End.

After they had safely hidden their gifts away (under the beds), Merry
and Pippin tumbled back out into the kitchen and immediately put
themselves underfoot, trying to sample all of the food that Rosie was
trying to lay out before they had all sat down. Sam smiled to
himself to see it; they might be all grown up, but the two cousins
still had their childish ways about them. Even Merry, who lately had
been exhibiting signs of settling down and becoming the responsible
hobbit he was born to be. Pippin, of course, was still two years
from his majority, so any juvenile behaviour indulged in by him was
always quickly dismissed by any adults who happened to be nearby.
Frodo's presence had always seemed to calm Pippin, and Sam noticed
that ever since Frodo's departure, Pippin seemed more tightly wound
than was his usual wont. He had been chattering more, and had more
nervous energy that required constant movement. He had always had
excess energy, but more so these past few months. Merry was a
calming influence, but more often than not Pippin's excess energy
seemed to transfer itself to Merry whenever the two were together,
and what one wound up with were two very talkative, mobile young
hobbits.

The family and the visitors gathered around the table for the first
Yuletide feast. Little Elanor was sitting happily in her high-
chair. She was a very mild-mannered child, and dutifully waited
until everyone was seated before she looked to her mum with wide,
brown eyes, pointed to the roast and clearly said, "El eat!"

"A woman after my own heart," Pippin laughed heartily before he took
the first helping of mashed potatoes and slathered it with gravy.
Every one else immediately tucked in after that; no one could ever
beat Pippin to food.

The conversation was very cheerful and light-hearted during the
meal. Rosie was a fabulous cook, and Merry and Pippin couldn't stop
complimenting her on her food. Sam filled everyone in on his
family. The Gamgees were all able to celebrate together this Yule,
all but Sam. The Gaffer was hosting at #3 for the entire six days.
Hamson, Halfred, Daisy and May had brought all of their children with
them for a total of ten little hobbits under the same roof. Marigold
and Tom didn't have any children yet, so they were just bringing
themselves. It was going to be very crowded at #3 Bagshot Row for
the forthcoming week. Rosie was looking forward to spending 1st and
2nd Yule with her immediate family. Everyone except Tom, who was
going to be at the Gamgees, would be there this year. Both of
Rosie's parents were still living, so it would be her, Elanor, the
families of Nick and Nibs, and Jolly, who was still a confirmed
bachelor. Another full household, but with more room than the
Gamgees since they were a large farmhouse and all.

Pippin's family was spread out all over the West Farthing. His
sisters were all spending Yule away from Great Smials, to be with
their husbands' families this year. Pippin's parents were in charge
of all festivities taking place at Great Smials, but 2nd Yule would
see an intimate gathering of Eglantine, Paladin and Eglantine's
brothers. Merry's parents would be responsible for various
activities planned for the entirety of Brandy Hall, but 2nd Yule
would be spent with Saradoc's brother Merimac and his family.

Sam was thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie. He knew that Frodo's
presence would be missed more as the holiday wore on, but tonight,
the mood was very festive. Tonight, the walnut lamps would be lit on
the little tree in the living room, and the presents would be laid to
rest underneath until first Yule, two days hence. He wondered how
hard it was going to be to keep Elanor from unwrapping everything
until then. She was a well-behaved child, and knew the meaning
of 'no', so it probably wouldn't be too much of a problem. If it
was, then the presents would just be put away until time to exchange
them.

The evening continued along pleasantly enough. Sam, Merry and Pippin
did the cleaning up after the meal while Rosie took Elanor into the
living area to play with her for a bit. Rosie smiled as she heard
the hobbits raise their voices in song, Pippin's clear high voice
melding with Merry's smooth baritone and Sam's deep bass.

Dinner grand now is done,
Guests have to the parlour gone,
Take out your pipes and pinch a smoke,
Thank your host, he is a good bloke!

Singing songs and drinking ale,
Giving thanks for health so hale,
Children's voices raised so sweet,
Little ones asleep at your feet.

Night time falls, light has fled,
Songs turn to stories as children seek their bed
Stars come out, fire burns low,
Conversations ebb and flow.

Another day has come and gone
The grown-ups finally stretch and yawn
Sleep falls softly, bathed in moonbeams
Good night, dear ones, pleasant dreams.

------------------------------------------

After the dishes were cleaned and put away, and the kitchen made
presentable, the male hobbits sat at the kitchen table and made
walnut lamps by filling the walnut shell-halves with sunflower oil
and placing a small, cut wick in each. As each was finished, each
one was lit with a piece of kindling from the fireplace, and
carefully put on a branch of the small spruce tree in the parlour.
Elanor had been put down to sleep, so there was no danger of her
crawling over to burn herself. The lamps would be watched closely
throughout the evening, and put out before bedtime so that there was
no danger of a fire starting.

The hobbits joined Rosie in the parlour after the lamps were all lit,
and sat for a few minutes just admiring the tree. The flames gave
off a soft, yellow glow and gave the illusion of light hovering over
the branches without touching. Wax was a mite expensive, and
although Sam could now afford such luxuries, old habits die hard, and
he still tried to do the frugal thing, and so had opted for walnut
shells instead of candles.

Sam, Merry and Pippin had pulled out their pipes and were silently
puffing on them, having filled them with Sam's Longbottom Leaf that
he passed around. Rosie silently sat by the hearth, doing some
mending by the firelight. Snow was coming down lightly outside,
sprinkling the ground and trees with a temporary white blanket. The
little parlour was filled with warmth and the light from the tree and
fireplace. All was at peace.

Pippin broke the silence. "Do you remember where we were on Yule
during the Quest?" he asked softly, hesitant to break the spell. The
subject of the Quest was always a sacred one for the hobbits, and
never spoken of lightly. Pippin knew that by asking, he would be
bringing up memories of Frodo in the process, and that was his
intent. That was why the three of them were gathering here this
year. Somebody had to be the first to bring it up, and it was no
surprise that it was Pippin who did so.

"I remember," Merry replied quietly. He glanced at Rosie. "We were
five days out of Rivendell, and the weather had held up pretty well
for the time of year. It was cold, but clear. I didn't know it yet,
but we were about halfway to Hollin. The night had been pleasant;
Pippin, you and I spent a lot of time talking to Boromir and getting
to know him, I remember. Gimli was pretty unapproachable and quiet;
he kept to himself, at least at first. Legolas was friendly, but
distant, as Elves are."

Sam piped up, "I remember just spending most of those first days with
Frodo, trying to make sure all his needs were gettin' met. That was
my job, o'course, him being my master and all. I remember Strider
being mighty preoccupied with Frodo as well, makin' sure he
understood what direction we were takin' and why. I also remember
that Frodo was pretty upbeat those first few days, before Caradhras
and before Moria. The rest in Rivendell had certainly done him good;
it had done everybody good."

"Yes," Merry said. "I kept thinking that Yule was Frodo's favourite
time of year, and how unlucky it was that we were starting out on the
main part of the Quest during that time. It would have been better
if we could have celebrated in Rivendell, all nice, safe and cosy...
and warm. But it was not to be.

"Anyway... we had a good couple of hours to go before stopping to
sleep, and we had been walking all that night since sundown. We were
all tired, hungry, and more than a little cranky. I think it had
slipped all our minds what day it was... all except for Frodo, of
course. The four of us hobbits were all bunched in the middle, as we
usually were... Gandalf, Aragorn, and Gimli were in front, Legolas
and Boromir behind us. All of a sudden, Frodo broke out in song,
with one of my favourite Yuletide songs:

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening,
A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

Gone away is the bluebird,
Here to stay is the new bird,
He sings a love song
As we go along,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

In the meadow we can build a snow hobbit,
And pretend that he is Mayor Brown,
He'll say are you married, we'll say not yet,
But you can do the job when you're in town,

Later on, we'll conspire,
As we dream by the fire,
To face unafraid
The plans that we made,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

"We all joined in, of course, by the second verse. That started a
whole round of song, for the remainder of the time that we walked
until we set camp."

Pippin said, "It's what happened next that I remember the most
clearly. Frodo approached us at the fire after supper, and after
everyone had laid out their beds for the day. Gandalf and Aragorn
had first watch, so we hobbits were preparing to retire as well.
Frodo surprised us by giving us each a very smooth, flat, shiny
stone. They all matched the colour of our eyes; mine was emerald
green, Merry's was blue, and Sam, yours was chocolate brown. He had
found those stones in Rivendell, polished glistening smooth from the
River Bruinen. I'll never forget that, that he remembered us like
that, in the midst of all the planning and activity that was going on
then."

"Do you all still have those stones?" Rosie asked.

"I do," Sam said. "It survived the entire march to Mordor and back."

"Ours didn't," Merry replied sadly. "They were in our packs when the
Uruk-hai attacked, and got left behind in Parth Galen."

Silence ensued for a few moments, each hobbit lost in his/her own
thoughts. Then the story-telling started up again, with Rosie
joining in. Memories throughout the years were looked back on,
laughed over fondly, and wept over. After a couple of hours, the
lights on the tree were doused, and the gifts were brought out and
put under the tree. The Yule holiday had begun.

------------------------------------------------

The next day, which was the day before 1st Yule, dawned clear and
bright. Sam was up before everybody else, shovelling the slush that
had started to melt in the walkway. The day was already warming up
to warmer than it was the day before, and all of the snow that had
fallen during the night had almost all disappeared. Elanor woke
Rosie around eight o'clock, and she walked into the kitchen which was
wafting with scents of breakfast. Merry and Pippin had risen earlier
than was their usual wont to make breakfast for everybody. Rosie
threw a grateful arm around Merry's waist as she walked in with
Elanor tucked into her arm.

"Thank you," she murmured sleepily. "We needed this little lie-in."

"Our pleasure," Pippin announced happily as he flipped an egg to its
uncooked side. "After all that you and Sam are doing for us this
visit, it's the least we could do."

"Now go into the parlour and tend to Rosie. We'll let you know when
it's ready," Merry said as he gave Rosie a squeeze. "When do you
leave for your parents'?"

"Jolly is picking me up with a cart a little before tea-time," Rosie
replied. "I'm already packed for the two days Elanor and I will be
gone. I hope you boys will be alright, here on your own," Rosie
worried. "I know you've all been on your own before, but .... "

"We'll be just fine," Merry soothed. "Pippin and I have done for
ourselves for quite awhile now. As to the food, well, we all took our
turns during the Quest cooking and feeding for a troupe of nine, and
Sam is the best cook out of all of us, so I promise that we won't
burn down the smial."

Rosie tweaked Merry's nose. "Oh, I wasn't worried about that. I
just worry about the little things; like whether or not Sam can find
his hairbrush or not. I'm sure you'll be alright... and you need
this time, too."

Pippin turned around as he transferred sausage from the pan to a
plate. " Yes, I think we do. You know, last night I was lying
awake, thinking...."

"There's a first," Merry joked.

Pippin swatted him. "Anyway, I was wondering if Frodo knows it's
Yule where he's at, and if the Elves do anything special around
Yuletide. I'm sure that Bilbo will remember, and that he'll make
sure something hobbity is done to celebrate. I wonder if he'll be
thinking of us, the same way we're thinking of him." Pippin's eyes
grew unfocused, and Merry hurriedly grabbed the plate of sausages
before they tumbled to the floor.

"Steady on, Pip!" Merry exclaimed, and Pippin jolted back to
reality. He had tears in his eyes as he looked at Merry. "Oh, Pip,
I 'm sure he's thinking of us," Merry said as he placed a hand on
Pippin's shoulder. "How could he not? It's his favourite time of
year, and we're not there to spend it with him. I'm sure he's happy,
but I'm sure he's missing the Shire about now as well. Bilbo's with
him, and he'll make sure Frodo doesn't get too lonely or melancholy.
Frodo did live with him for twelve years, after all, and he'll know
what to do to make this time of year special for him."

Pippin rubbed his eyes. "I hope so; I just think of him surrounded
by all those aloof elves, trying to find someone to drink ale with
and sing songs. At least Gandalf is there, so he'll have someone to
smoke a pipe with." Pippin shook himself. "I'm sorry; these moods
come on me out of nowhere sometimes. Let's call Sam in, for
breakfast is ready!"

At the mention of food, everybody's heart got a little lighter.
Rosie went to call Sam, and Merry and Pippin finished getting the
table ready.

----------------------------------------------

As soon as breakfast ended, the day started getting chillier, until
it started to snow again. Later that afternoon, Odo Twofoot came
around with a sleigh, offering rides to anybody in the neighbourhood
of the Hill. Rosie bundled up Elanor, and she, Merry and Pippin took
a ride while Sam stayed behind and finished wrapping the gifts that
Rosie would be taking with her to her parents' home. The day was a
gorgeous day for a sleigh ride. The sun was shining, the sky was the
colour of periwinkles, and a few white, cottony clouds dotted the
sky. The day was cold, but clear after the morning snowfall.
Weather could be very changeable in the Shire, especially during the
winter months.

At about three-thirty, Jolly arrived to cart Rosie, Elanor and the
gifts away. Rosie kissed Merry and Pippin on the cheeks, her husband
on the mouth, and then was off for the two days of Yule at the Cotton
Farm. Sam looked wistfully after the cart as it drove away, carrying
his family with it. Merry put a hand on Sam's shoulder.

"They'll be back before you know it, Sam," Merry said.

"Aye, I know it, Mister Merry."

"Now, Sam there will be none of the 'Mistering' and 'Mastering' for
the next couple of days, all right? Let's go and warm up with some
tea."

The three hobbits walked back into the warmth of the smial, and took
in the scents of baking and cooking. Sam had been busy today. Not
only had he wrapped the gifts for the Cottons, but he had also baked
pies, bread, cookies, and had started the ham that would be cooking
all evening long, just to be warmed up the following day. He didn't
have a huge crowd to feed, but it was Merry and Pippin, so a lot of
food was needed.

After tea, Merry and Pippin helped Sam bring in the Yule log that had
been sitting outside under a blanket for the past two days. It had
been kept dry for the most part; any wetness that got through would
just serve to make it burn that much longer. The tradition was for
the log to continue burning for at least 12 hours non-stop. Sam
brought out the chunk of wood that had been saved from last year,
struck a match to it, and lit the kindling surrounding the log once
it was in the hearth. Before long a raging fire was burning, keeping
the chill of the evening and night at bay.

As the sun started to dip below the horizon, Sam took his matches and
lit the candles hidden within the paper lanterns lining the walkway
from the main road to Bag End. Rosie had taken pride in making these
lanterns. She had cut the designs in them, through which the
candles' flames would show. Some were designs of a log burning, some
were wreaths, and some were a star. There were about fifteen
lanterns in all, and they emanating a cheerful glow in the gathering
dark.

That night, the hobbits gathered in the kitchen for left-over, warmed
up roast pork. There was quite a lot left over, so there was plenty
for three very hungry hobbits. Sam had also prepared some of
Pippin's favourite finger food: scallions rolled in slices of ham
and creamed cheese, which was a special sort of cheese.... a
delicacy, and hard to make. But Sam knew how, and did it
brilliantly. It was one of the skills he had learned while residing
in Minas Tirith after the defeat of the Dark Lord. It took some
special ingredients that had to be imported from
Rohan, but it was well-worth the expense. There were also rolls and
cookies to be had, as well as three choices of freshly baked pies:
apple, blackberry and cherry.

Sated, the three friends sat in the parlour, by the glow of the Yule
log. Satisfied and content, Pippin let out a healthy belch. "Oh,
that was so good," he said pleasantly.

Merry smirked. "Yes, and some of us have to be more vocal about it
than others, I suppose."

Sam laughed. He was starting to relax around these gentry cousins of
Mister Frodo's. It always took him awhile to warm up to them, not
for any lack of friendliness on their part, but being brought up by
the Gaffer never allowed him to relax around those born to a higher
station. Even the Quest couldn't burn that habit out of him.

"Well, thank you, Mast.... er, Pippin. I'm so glad you enjoyed
yourself."

"Oh, most certainly. We'll help you clean up as well...."

"Oh no, no, definitely not. You are my guest, and as such, you will
be doing no further housework during your stay here. Helping clean
up with Rosie was one thing, but not now. No, you are here to enjoy
yourselves..."

"I thought we were here to remember Frodo," Merry said softly.

Sam flushed. "We are, but..."

"No buts about it, Sam," Pippin said gently. "We are not here to be
served. We are here as equals. The only reason we're here, instead
of you being at Crickhollow, is so that Rosie could be with us, and
also because Bag End is more hospitable to company than our place
is. Really, Sam.... no arguments."

Sam nodded unhappily. "If you say so, Master Pippin."

Pippin smiled. "And no 'master', please. We're all friends here."

"All right... Pippin."

"That's better!"

The three cheerfully cleaned up after they had all had a chance to
digest their food and smoke a pipe. Afterwards, when they were
settled into the parlour again, Sam shyly said, "There's a Yule
tradition among us working folk, a way we remember those who have
passed on during the previous year. We did it for my Ma last year,
and Frodo seemed comfortable doing it, so I thought we could do the
same for Frodo this year. Now, I know he hasn't passed on,
literally, but the result for us is the same. Are you willing?"

"Of course we are, Sam," Merry said. "Anything that will help us
remember Frodo... that is what we're here for."

"Alright then. Usually we do it on the night of Yule, but I thought
we'd do it tonight instead." Sam got up and went into the study,
bringing back with him a medium-sized wooden bowl with slips of paper
in it. "Now, I wrote out 10 scenarios. We don't have to do all of
them, seeings how there's only three of us here. Anyways, for
example, one piece of paper might say, "relate a fond memory you have
of Frodo during a certain Yule." Whoever draws that slip of paper
would then go on to describe their favourite memory of Yule with
Frodo. Things like that." Sam blushed. "I hope this all makes sense
to you."

"What a charming idea!" Pippin exclaimed. "Truly Sam, it is! This
is the very reason we have gathered here. Let's start!"

Merry smiled. "It's a lovely idea, Sam. I'm glad you thought of it."

Sam ducked his head. "Thank you, sirs," he responded softly.

"Who goes first?" Pippin asked.

"Well, usually the oldest goes first, so I guess that would be me,"
Sam said carefully.

"That's fine, Sam... go on," Merry encouraged.

Sam drew a slip of paper from the bowl. Smoothing it out, he
read, "Relate an incident when the two of you had an argument, but
then smoothed things over." Sam cleared his throat, and looked very
nervous. "I was hoping one of you two would get this one... Frodo
and I never had an argument...."

"It's okay, Sam, I'll take that one," Merry offered. "You draw
another."

"Right, thank you, Mist.... Merry," Sam said. He drew another piece
of paper, cleared his throat and read from it. "Describe a time when
Frodo was content and at peace." Sam looked up, tears welling in his
eyes. "The happiest I've ever seen Mister Frodo was at the 111th
Birthday Party. I was 21 then, and had helped the Gaffer set up the
decorations and place settings. Frodo was ecstatic.. not only was he
coming of age, but his uncle was now eleventy-one, and well on his
well to beating the Old Took... begging your pardon, Master Pippin.
Anyways, on the eve before the big day, Mister Frodo took me to the
Green Dragon, to buy me an ale. I was still too young to buy myself
one... although I heard tell that never stopped you, Mister Merry,
being all of 19, just entering your tweens. I felt so grown up that
day, and Mister Frodo was feeling very generous... and expansive.
Not only did he buy me a meal, and two ales, but he bought everybody
there an ale, and it t'wer a busy evening. He started telling
stories, too... stories about what happened on Mr. Bilbo's
adventure. Now, hobbits usually don't want to hear that sort of
talk, but everybody was in a forgivin' mood, Mr. Frodo comin' of age
an' all. They let him tell his stories. He was so happy that day...
and the following day, as well. Even when he knew, all that time,
that Mr. Bilbo was gonna up and leave, just like that... even knowing
that, it couldn't quell his exuberance."

"Frodo was happiest when he had an ale in his hand and a story on his
lips," Merry smiled through his own tears. He glanced at Pippin, and
noticed he was quietly weeping as well. "Shall I go next?" he
asked.

Sam nodded, too choked up to continue.

"All right," said Merry. "An argument that Frodo and I had.. this is
the first one that comes to mind, and involves you, Pip. Actually, it
involves you too, Sam.

"It was during one of the summer weeks that Pippin and I were
spending at Bag End. I was sixteen, which made Frodo thirty, and
Pippin was eight Actually, it was the first time that Pippin spent
time at Bag End without his family. He had been visiting me at
Brandy Hall, and when time came for my summer visit to Bag End, it
was decided that Pippin would come along. So Da took us both and
dropped us off for two weeks. Uncle Paladin was going to come
retrieve Pippin after a week, since that was about the amount of time
he thought Bilbo could endure without losing his sanity.

"Anyway, this was about the third day of our visit. It was a
glorious, sunny day, and I had wanted to go fishing with Sam that
day. We wanted to ditch Pippin, because he was too little to go to
the river with us, and we were too young to supervise him. But Bilbo
was gone to market that day, and Frodo was stuck indoors catching up
on his lessons, having abandoned them the past few days in order to
spend time with us. He was relying on me to keep Pippin occupied.
I, of course, argued that Frodo could watch Pippin just as easily
from indoors while he was studying. Frodo said absolutely not, that
Pippin deserved to enjoy the nice weather and was not to be thrown
aside for an activity that could be done another day. For some
reason I had it in my head as soon as I got up that day that I wanted
to spend the day with Sam, whether it were fishing or no, without the
little rascal tagging along for once. This was the only day Sam
would have free during my stay, since his family was going to visit
Bell's family the next day for a fortnight.

"Oh, I yelled and screamed and threw a right temper tantrum...
probably one of my last ones ever, since I WAS 16 years old... only
three years later I was mature enough to help Frodo manoeuvre his way
around his party guests after Bilbo disappeared. I was lucky Bilbo
wasn't there... he would have clapped me a good one.

"Frodo, of course just stood there, arms crossed and foot tapping, a
disappointed frown on his face. When I finally calmed down enough to
listen to him, he made me realize how you looked up to me, Pip, and
how you would be dreadfully hurt if we were to leave you behind to
fend for yourself. After that, of course, I felt guilty, and went
out of my way to make the day pleasant for you."

"I remember," Pippin commented. "I remember we flew a kite that day,
and it got caught in the Party Tree. I climbed the tree all on my
own to retrieve it. We played with Sam all day long, imagining that
we were on an adventure all our own, fighting orcs and flying on
eagles' backs. That day remains one of my fondest memories."

The room grew quiet as each hobbit was lost in his own thoughts of
that long-ago day. The only sound was the crackling of the Yule log
as it burned its way down.

Shaking himself out of his reverie, Pippin said, "Well, I suppose I
should go next, yes?"

"Right," Sam said. He handed the bowl to Pippin, and Pippin withdrew
his folded paper. As he read it, a faint smile formed on his
face. "Ah, this is perfect," he murmured as he pocketed the piece of
paper. His eyes took on a distant look as he brushed his hair out of
his eyes.

The minutes ticked by. Merry said, "Yes, Pip?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," Pippin said, flushing with embarrassment. "My
scenario took me back a few years." He drew the piece of paper back
out again and read from it. "Recall a time when Frodo noticed you
were down, and took time to cheer you up."

"Right. The incident that immediately comes to mind is my earliest
memory of Frodo. I couldn't have been more than four or five, but I
remember it very clearly. It was Yuletide, and my family was
spending it at Bag End with Bilbo, Frodo, Merry and his parents. I
remember the one thing I wanted more than anything else was a carved
pony. I had seen one of Merry's when he was playing with it, the one
that Merimac gave him for his birthday that year, and I decided that
was what I was going to ask for for Yule. My heart was set on it.
Well, 1st Yule rolled around, and we had all opened our gifts.
Naturally, the one thing I wanted, was what I hadn't received. I
liked everything I had got; I was just missing my pony. Anyway,
being as small as I was, I had not yet learned the art of hiding my
feelings. My disappointment, I'm afraid, was plain for all to see.
My father reprimanded me, saying that I was acting ungrateful. 'Look
at all the nice things you received,' he admonished. 'Just because
you didn't get a particular toy, doesn't mean you have to mope around
all day with a long face.'

"Father sent me to mine and Merry's room until I could 'get over
it'. I remember sniffling and crying, and generally feeling sorry
for myself. I laid down on the bed and closed my eyes. I was almost
asleep when there was a knock at my door.

"Frodo poked his head in, and winked at me. 'May I come in?' he
asked. I shrugged sulkily. He came in and quietly shut the door
behind him. Walking over, he looked me over thoughtfully. I could
tell his thoughts were whirling away in his brain, and that he was
trying to think of something to say to cheer me up.

"'I didn't get my pony,' I blurted out, and started to cry.

"'Oh dear,' Frodo said as he sat on my bed. He rubbed circles on my
back as I sobbed my little heart out. He waited until I was all
cried out, then he smiled and winked. 'I have something I want to
show you that might make up for it.'

"I sat up as I sniffled. 'What?' I asked, half-heartedly.

"Frodo showed me what was in his hand. It was a block of wood, at
just the right size for a toy pony to be carved out of. 'Now, I know
you wanted it for Yule, but I'll tell you what. I'm showing this to
you as a promise.... something to look forward to. Your birthday is
the fifth of Astron, right? Alright. How about if I promised you
that I would have your pony carved and ready to give you, from this
block of wood, by the time your birthday rolls around?'

"Of course, I was happy to oblige him on that. I immediately perked
up, and was in a good mood for the rest of my stay. I don't know if
he had planned that all along, to make me that pony for my birthday,
or if he thought of it on the spot after seeing how disappointed I
was when I didn't get one. Either way, he certainly had a way of
cheering you up when you were down. He did make that pony for me,
too... I still have it. It's on my dresser at Crickhollow."

The three hobbits stayed up well into the night, drawing scenarios
from Sam's bowl and reminiscing. They not only took from what Sam
wrote on paper, but they also talked about whatever came into their
heads. It was well past 2:00 a.m when they stumbled into their
bedrooms, and fell into deep, dreamless sleeps.

The next morning, Merry and Pippin slept in until Sam woke them for
elevenses. Sam himself had slept until 10, which for him was
unheard of. His sleep was usually interrupted by little Elanor
sometime during the night.

Pippin stumbled into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and yawning, finding
Merry already there with a cup of tea and a scone with raspberry jam
and clotted cream. Scratching the back of his head and squinting
into the sunlight, Pippin said, "So what's on the agenda for today?"

"Well, Master Pippin," Sam said, forgetting to omit the 'master', "It
is first Yule, so we'll be opening our gifts today."

Pippin brightened. He was like a child during Yule
festivities. "Oh, yes, our gifts! One moment, there's a gift I have
yet to put under the tree." Pippin turned around and headed for the
bedroom. Merry gave Sam a blank look.

"I don't know what he's talking about. I saw six gifts under there
last night, so I don't know to what other gift he would be referring."

"Ah well, " Sam said around a piece of cracker with cheese, "we'll
find out soon enough."

The hobbits lingered in the kitchen through both elevenses and
luncheon, the atmosphere very relaxed and cheerful. After many cups
of tea, and some warmed-up soup and salad, they made their way to the
parlour, surrounding the tree, sitting on the floor as if they were
little lads again. Pippin volunteered to be "Father Yule", so he
passed all the gifts out. Eyeing the extra package under the tree,
he smiled hesitantly. "That's for after we all open up our gifts.
It's something I thought I'd try, and I hope it doesn't fall flat."

"I'm sure whatever it is, we'll enjoy it, Pip," Merry encouraged,
clapping Pippin on the shoulder. "Now, who should go first?
Actually, Sam, I would like you to open yours from me first. It kind
of sets the stage for what this little holiday this year is all
about. "

"Right then," Sam said. He reached for the square package, and
opened it carefully. What he saw took his breath away. "Oh, Mr.
Merry," he breathed softly, reaching out to touch the precious gift.
He traced the outside of it gently, feeling the hard wood of the
walnut frame, admiring its reddish tint. But the real treat... oh,
how lovely he looked!

Merry had done a charcoal drawing of Frodo, in a likeness that was
uncanny. Merry had captured the almost-blue colour of Frodo's curls,
and his coloured-pencils filled in areas such as his deep blue eyes,
and his pale-red lips. It was a drawing of Frodo sitting behind his
desk, quill in one hand, face resting on the fist of the other, a
dreamy expression on his face as he sat with the Red Book open in
front of him, writing his story... their story... down. The
sunlight was captured coming in through the window and highlighting
his hair, giving an almost halo effect around his head.

Sam looked up into Merry's eyes, speechless. Merry smiled, and
nodded. " You're welcome, Sam," he said softly. "I thought you
could put it in Frodo's study, and you could look at it whenever you
sat at his desk, doing whatever bookkeeping needs doing."

Sam finally found his voice. "Oh, Merry... It's lovely. Why, it's
just the spittin' image of him. It looks like you were right there
in the room with him, the likeness is so near."

"I drew from a memory I had of him during one of my stays here, after
the Quest. The door to his study was open, and instead of knocking,
I walked right in, and this was the picture that presented itself to
me, a split-second before he saw and acknowledged me. It imprinted
itself in my mind, and there it is."

The rest of the presents were opened with much grateful
exclamations. Sam received from Pippin a spade with a mithril
blade. "It's more for show, of course, than to use," Pippin said
lightly. "I had it ordered two years ago, not knowing when I'd be
giving it to you, but today seemed a good occasion. I had to go to
Bucklebury's market to pick it up, because that's where they
delivered it to, and conveniently it was where I went to do the rest
of my Yule shopping!"

From Sam, Merry received a book of herb lore written by the Elves.
Sam was mum on how he got his hands on such a copy. Merry also
received a set of quills, some charcoal, parchment and some
watercolours from Pippin. Pippin received some chocolates from
Gondor from Merry, who had ordered them well in advance, and a book
of poetry and songs from Sam, to help him in his wooing of Begonia,
Sam winked.

The presents that Merry and Pippin had brought for Rosie and Elanor
were to be kept under wraps until Rosie returned the following
evening. That left only one present left under the tree. Pippin
ducked his head shyly as the other two hobbits looked at him askance.

"This might seem very silly, and I'm not sure what's to be done with
it.... but I got a present for Frodo," Pippin explained. "I bought
this for him two months before he left, in anticipation of Yule, but
now he's not here... and... " Pippin's voice died away as he realized
he was groping for straws. Tears leaked from his eyes down his
cheeks, and he turned away from Merry and Sam.

"Pippin, it's alright! Why don't Sam and I unwrap it?" Merry
reached for the gift. Reflexively, Pippin pulled it way from Merry's
hands. Mortified, he stumbled an apology. "I... I'm sorry, Merry.
Here, take it; please, you and Sam open it."

Merry looked at Pippin sympathetically as he took the package from
Pippin's hands. Turning to Sam, he smiled and said, "Well, Sam...
shall we?"

"Yes, sir," Sam responded, and he and Merry set to.

Sitting on the floor before them was a beautiful, shiny onyx chess
set. "I know how Frodo loved to play, so I got him this while you
and I were in Bree, Merry," Pippin explained. "but now that neither
he nor Bilbo are here, I'm not sure what's to be done with it."

"Tell you what, Master Pippin," Sam said, ignoring the rueful look
Pippin threw his way. "Mr. Merry plays chess, don't he? Maybe he
could keep it, for now, until... well, I don't want to be
presumptuous, but...." Sam stopped, clearly embarrassed.

"Go on, Sam," Merry urged.

"Well, Mr. Frodo hinted that when I was ready one day, I could maybe
follow him. I'm to be allowed passage on one of them Elven ships.
If I ever do take up that offer, I could always take that chess set
to him, Master Pippin. I'd be happy to do it. But for now, I think
it should go where it will at least get some use. Whaddya think?"

Merry and Pippin were both looking at Sam with their mouths open in
shock. Pippin finally found his voice. "You... you were offered a
place in the Undying Lands?" he asked tremulously. "That's quite an
honour, Sam. Do you mean to take them up on it?"

"Well, not for a long time yet, o'course. Not unless... unless
Rosie... unless she passes on before I do. But if, at the end of my
life, I find myself alone, then yes, I think that I will."

The mood grew sombre as each hobbit thought of the ramifications of
this decision. Merry and Pippin were both pleased that Sam was given
this opportunity, and Sam was a bit embarrassed to admit to it,
wondering if Merry and Pippin would be envious. But they showed no
signs of being so; they were just happy for Sam, and Sam was grateful
for that.

The rest of the day was spent preparing for the evening feast...
warming up the ham, and preparing the secondary dishes and desserts.
The Yule log finally burned itself out; the lanterns along the
walkway were relit. It was a very pleasant day.

On 2nd Yule, most of the day was spent sitting around and taking
turns reading from the Red Book, starting out with Bilbo's birthday
party. Of course they didn't get through the whole thing, but what
they did read sent them all back down memory lane, to that time that
had started Frodo on the path to where he ended up. It was a
bittersweet journey, and many tears were shed. But a worthwhile
journey, all the same. Rosie returned that night, and the next two
days passed very pleasantly. More reading from the Red Book was
done, with an effort to include Rosie, and more tears were shed, but
laughter was also involved. On the whole, a very memorable holiday.

The time finally came for Merry and Pippin to return to Crickhollow.
Rosie, Elanor and Sam gathered to say their goodbyes. Merry went to
retrieve the ponies while Pippin gathered all of their gifts and
clothes together. "Thank you so very much for your hospitality,
Rosie and Sam," Pippin said as he pecked Rosie on the cheek and shook
Sam's hand. "This Yule will always hold a special place in my heart
and memory."

"T'was a pleasure to have you here," Rosie beamed.

"Aye, it t'were," Sam said. "In 'nother couple of years, why, you
and Mr. Merry will probably have your own families to spend Yule
with, so it's a good thing we did it this year."

Pippin blushed. "Er, yes, maybe so."

Merry returned with the ponies, and came in to say his goodbyes.
After the pleasantries had all been said, the Gamgees sent them on
their way

Sam sagged against the door after he closed it. "I love 'em to
death, and I'll miss 'em, but that sure was emotionally draining.
I'm glad we won't be doin' that again anytime soon."

Rosie smiled. "I know what you mean. T'was a good thing to do,
though; Mr. Frodo would approve."

"Yes, he would," Sam agreed. There were many more Yules to come
without Mr. Frodo, and this was only the first. It was good to have
a sense of closure, at last. Sam mentally sent a "Happy Yule"
Frodo's way, and made his way back into his home... the home that
Frodo had bequeathed to him and his family.

The End.




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