By Anne Marie Gazzolo
Word Count: 2605
Summary: Frodo celebrates one last Yule at Bag End before leaving for the West.
Frodo stood silently in the dark parlour, looking at the single light that glowed by his favorite chair. The book he was reading awaited him by the table. The blanket he often wrapped himself in was neatly draped over the back of the chair. Small cookies with sprinkles and cream were on a plate next to the book, in anticipation of First Yule, tempting him to sit down, eat, read, and pretend the morrow would be a Yule like any other. But it wouldn’t be. It was going to be his last one here. The last one he would ever spend in Middle-earth. What would it be like next year when he spent it with Bilbo in the West and not with Sam, Merry, or Pippin here at Bag End?
The Ring-bearer heard a rustle farther back in the smial, and knew Sam was coming out to him. He quickly made it to his chair and opened his book. This must be a Yule like any other, as far as he could make it, for the sake of his beloved guardian who had enough to think about with Rose six months along. My first niece, Frodo thought, for he was certain the little bairn was a lass, and that was enough contentment for him to be able to give his Sam a true smile when he came to check on him.
Sam walked into the room with his master’s night tea, chamomile with a pinch of athelas leaves. Frodo almost always slept better afterward. Taking the mug gratefully, he sipped it slowly and said, “Thank you, my Sam.”
Sam thought his master looked especially pensive, and he wondered about that. “You need anything else, Mr. Frodo?”
“I think I will enjoy a little bit of peace before Merry and Pippin arrive,” Frodo said.
Sam was glad to see his master’s tired eyes glint just a little mischievously. “They do have a talent for making their presences felt, don’t they?”
Frodo laughed softly, and Sam’s heart soared on the wings given it by that sweet sound. “Yes, they do at that.” And I will need it, Frodo thought as he sobered far too quickly.
“Now, Mr. Frodo dear, don’t you be staying up too late now, as you know they’ll keep you up until all hours when they come.”
Frodo smiled softly at how easily Sam gave him orders and how easily he obeyed them. “I won’t, my Sam. Just a few more pages.”
“I’ll come and check on you later, then.”
Frodo smiled again, and when Sam smiled back, the elder hobbit tucked it away in his heart with all the love that was already there. He had much to store up, and he wondered how he could possibly do it all in the months he had left.
When Sam came back, he found Frodo asleep in the chair, the book still open on his lap. The younger hobbit rescued it before it could fall and wake his master. He extinguished the light before gathering his treasure into his arms, blanket and all, and walked down the hallway to Frodo’s bedroom. He thought of the myriad times he had walked these halls, easily done even in the dark, and how his and Rose’s bairns would soon be doing so. He hoped they would give some ease to the shadow that lingered, and Sam feared was deepening, over his Frodo’s heart.
Neither hobbit ever spoke of the pain. They grieved over it and fought against it, and during that battle they continued on with life as normally as they could. Nightmares still caused them both to cry out at times and come running to each other. They held each other tight and murmured comforts and gave caresses to curls and tear-streaked faces until the dream lost their hold. Sam kept hoping the torment would grow less, and that his master would come back to life. ’Twasn’t right that he should still be suffering. ’Twasn’t right at all.
With the moonlight gently streaming through the window, Sam changed his master into his nightshirt and tucked him into bed. He watched Frodo’s soft glow for a bit, a slice of starlight come to earth, then gave his brow a soft kiss as he always did with a whispered, “I love you, me dear. Sleep well.” He left the door ajar so he could hear if his master needed him in the night.
But Frodo did not stir that night. He dreamt of the music of the Sea, of waves washing against white shores, of himself standing there in the moonlight, listening to their lullaby. What indeed would the West be like? It preoccupied much of his thoughts and dreams, but he didn’t want to travel there just yet. He wanted to remain in the Shire these last few months.
* * *
Hurried preparations for the arriving guests took up the next morning. Much of it was done already, but there were always last minute things to do. Sam kept a watchful eye on his master that he not overexert himself, but Frodo seemed to thrive on the activity, much as he had when he and Rose busied themselves the previous month with making the smial as welcoming as could be for the little one to come. Frodo and Sam both insisted that Rose take care of herself and do as little as possible. They delighted in “spoiling” her, as she termed it.
After elevenses, Rose saw Frodo gaze upon her with that distant, wistful look she saw so often since his return. She took his hand. “Would you like to feel your niece, Mr. Frodo? She’s been plenty active today. I don’t know if she’ll wait until Rethe before she kicks her way out!”
Frodo looked up at her and then put the hand she guided over her belly. His face grew beatific with awe as he felt the babe move. “Oh, Rose, how wonderful for you, how very wonderful!” he breathed. This made it all worthwhile. All the torment, hunger, thirst, and exhaustion… The wonder of the moment crowded out the emptiness and darkness he felt inside. Yes, it was all most definitely worth it, just for this little one. Frodo closed his eyes so he could more easily have his world be just that little life kicking. When at last he opened them, he found his faithful companion nearby. “You are so lucky, my Sam. What a marvel she is.”
“Isn’t he?” Sam said with a smile, just as determined that the little one would be a lad, so he could name him after Frodo.
Rosie smiled, for she well knew the differing opinions of her husband and his brother. Sam wrapped all of them into his wide embrace and they huddled there, the four of them. “This is going to be the best Yule ever,” he murmured, “because you are all here with me.”
Frodo held onto his Sam for a long moment and doubled his efforts to be happy for him. And he was happy, for his niece had made him so, and Sam, and Rose, and the anticipation of seeing Merry and Pippin. He knew there wouldn’t be any child, even any Shire, if it hadn’t been for Sam’s great sacrifices on his behalf during the Quest. His Sam deserved every bit of joy there could be found in Middle-earth and every bit of it that Frodo could give, he would.
Shortly before lunch, it began to snow. Frodo watched it through the window that overlooked the garden before he announced to Sam that he was going out for a little while and see if he could spot his cousins on the Road. He put on his cloak and hat, wrapped the scarf around his neck, and put on his mittens. He then presented himself to Sam for inspection, for he knew Sam wouldn’t let him out the door without “being properly dressed.” He hoped he wasn’t being too obvious in his desire to stand out in the snow and feel it under his feet and let it melt in his outstretched hands. Was there snow in the West? He didn’t want to take the chance there wasn’t and miss this opportunity.
Sam looked him over, then smiled and kissed his master’s brow quickly, and Frodo knew he had passed inspection. He walked down the Row and looked to where he hoped to see Merry and Pippin coming. A few moments later, he staggered forward a couple of steps after a well-packed snowball hit him squarely in the back. Before he could properly recover, another one hit him.
“Happy Yule, Frodo!” Merry cried.
Both cousins tackled him to the ground in a giant hug which Frodo gladly returned. “That was sneaky of you, coming up the opposite way. Did you pass by, and I didn’t even see you?”
“Well, I learned sneakiness from the best, didn’t I?” Merry told him. “And I also know how to disguise myself as a snowball, if you recall.”
“And I learned from Merry,” Pippin said.
“But I didn’t teach you all those tricks for you to use them on me!”
“When has that ever stopped us before?” Merry said, and offered Frodo his hand to help him up.
Frodo accepted the help, not bothering to respond to the comment. “I hope you are all ready to eat, because Sam has really outdone himself this time, I think.”
“Of course we’re ready!” Pippin said. “I am famished and ran part of the way just to get here sooner. Merry could barely keep up! The snow was so slippery at times. We would have come even sooner, but Merry started a snowball fight and hit me when my back was turned and so I had to hit him back. That’s when I really started running because who knows when we would have gotten here if we had kept going at it. I could have fainted from hunger on the way!”
Frodo laughed. “Well, you made it, my Pipsqueak, that’s the important part.”
The three cousins walked back up the path to Bag End. At the threshold, Frodo restrained Pippin from running straight to the kitchen. “You and your snowy feet aren’t going to ruin all the hard work Sam has done in cleaning the floors. Shake the snow off your cloak and breeches and stamp your feet. You too, Merry.”
After also wiping their feet on the mat right inside the front door, Pippin waited half an instant to make sure Frodo thought he was clean enough. At his cousin’s smiling nod, he shot to the kitchen like an arrow from its quiver.
“Isn’t the snow beautiful?” Merry said.
“Yes, very beautiful.”
Merry heard the wistfulness and pain in his beloved cousin’s voice and grieved that it could not be overcome for long. They didn’t speak of it any more than Frodo and Sam did, but they all felt the deeply carved wounds. It wasn’t fair that his gentle cousin and brother should suffer so. Merry and Pippin were determined that Frodo would have a good Yule this year, and they could all forget the pain for a little while.
Lunch was delicious. Pippin restrained himself from completely hogging the Yule nog after a couple of significant glances from Sam. The snow continued to fall all day, and before tea time the three hobbits had another snowball fight, during which they delighted to hear Frodo’s shrieks of joy. The Ring-bearer’s cheeks were rosy from the cold after they came back in, and his smile was bright. His three brothers tucked away the beautiful sight into their hearts where it melted some of the pain there. Frodo looked at his treasured ones and stored up more memories.
Supper was a feast that surprised everyone, for Sam had been hard at work while they were playing. Four grateful hobbits were quite free with their words of praise, which caused Sam to blush something fierce. All the corners and a bit more were filled up by the time they ended.
“I don’t know if I can even move,” Merry said, and the others groaned in agreement.
Frodo’s mouth was half-ringed by a yellow mustache from the Yule nog, which was another memory the others stored away. Afters were very late that night, but Frodo made sure he had his favorite treats and passed out more of them to his brothers and to Rose, and an extra to her for “my little niece”.
The three cousins settled down next to each other in bed, nigh to midnight.
“Pippin, your feet are freezing!”
“No more than yours are!”
After a little more wrestling around for the most comfortable position and proper share of the blankets, they were all set. The two younger hobbits each put an arm over Frodo’s chest. Frodo’s head turned toward his first brother and he smiled as he fell asleep. A bit later, Sam came by to check on his master, and satisfied that all was well, left the door slightly ajar.
* * *
The next morning, Frodo woke after Pippin pounced on him. “Happy Second Yule, cousin!”
Frodo raised his arm to put over his face. “It’s too early, Pipsqueak!”
“No, it’s not!” the tween said. “It’s almost time for first breakfast, and I can smell the pancakes Sam is making, and it’s snowed all night, but now it’s nice and sunny, and we can have another snowball fight…”
“It’s too early,” Frodo said again, interrupting the tween, but Pippin dragged him up by his arm. The rest of the elder hobbit’s body followed reluctantly.
“Where is Merry?” Frodo asked as he cautiously left his room, suspicious now that his first brother had not yet re-appeared.
He looked out the front window, but didn’t see anyone. He cautiously opened the door and poked his head out. He felt a cold blast of air and snow against his cheek as the wind whipped it up. He heard a rustle above him, and suddenly felt snow against the back of his neck and down his back. He cried out in shock and heard a giggle. “Happy Second Yule, Frodo!” Merry cried and slid off the roof into his cousin’s arms.
“You rascal!” Frodo said, shivering but not greatly annoyed, though he pretended to be. “First I’m attacked in my own bed by some sort of flying hobbit, and then I can’t even step outside my own door before I’m assaulted again! And all before breakfast!”
“Don’t you miss us when we aren’t around?” Merry asked. “Life must be so dull.”
“Dull is not a bad thing,” the elder hobbit argued.
“No, dull is a very bad thing. You said so yourself once, remember? After…”
“I don’t remember ever saying that when you or Pippin were around.”
“Which proves my point.”
“Then how could you know I said it?”
“Oh, I have my sources.”
“Hummph. Get in here, right now, before we both freeze to death. Your source would be most put out if I caught cold because of you.”
The day passed as joyfully as the previous one. Later in the afternoon, it began to snow again. Frodo put his head back and his tongue out to catch a few flakes, as they all used to do as lads. Sam watched from inside and shared the warm joy with Merry and Pippin as they looked at their treasure and stored another memory for safekeeping. Frodo shone brighter than he had since the Quest ended. It was a very good Yule.