On the Role of the Yule Dwarf by Larner

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Written for the LOTR Yule Exchange a few years ago, and added to Lindelea's group story, "To Tell a Tale," in which Pippin, recovering from illness in Minas Tirith, is being distracted by various people sharing stories with him.  I felt it time to post it here independently in my own collection of tales.

On the Role of the Yule Dwarf

            “Sir Peregrin!  Are you here?”

            Pippin, who sat in the small garden behind the guesthouse in which those of the Fellowship dwelt in the Sixth Circle of the White City, looked up from the small table on which sat what little remained of his tea.  The voice was that of a Man, but was not one of those he recognized from his time spent amongst the Guard of the Citadel or those from the city who’d fought in the Army of the West before the Black Gate.  The voice was deep, and somehow sounded to be from the north, from the lands surrounding the Shire.  One of Strider’s kinsmen, he thought.  But not one I have talked to enough to recognize his voice.

            “I’m here, behind the house!” he called, and in moments a tall Man, definitely one of the northern Dúnedain, appeared around the corner of the building, carrying a bundle in his arms.

            “Aragorn asked me to bring you this clothing,” the Man said, “but no one was within when I knocked at the guesthouse door.”

            Pippin nodded and indicated that the Man should come closer.  “The housekeeper needed to go to the markets in the Fourth Circle, and the youth assigned as our page has today as his free day.  So, as I do appear finally to be recovering, they trust me to not push myself too far.  Join me, if you will!”

            The Man gave the bundle of clothing, a set of garments more in keeping with Shire fashions than what Pippin had now, into the Hobbit’s hands and sat down on the grass by Pippin’s bench.  “I am glad to have the chance to meet you at last,” he said.  “I was nearby when the Dwarf saw your foot under that troll, and we all but despaired of your life, I fear.  I am Bardamir son of Aldarin.  My family has dwelt always in the village of our Chieftains in the Angle, and I was one of those my lord kinsman trained in my first patrol as a recruit with the Rangers of Eriador.  I was glad to be chosen to come south in the Grey Company to join Aragorn in the final battles with the Enemy.  I understand that you dwell in the Tooklands within the Shire?”

            Pippin found himself wincing at the name of his home region.  “Yes.  You know of them?”

            Bardamir nodded.  “Oh, yes, I do.  I have often had to ride through the Shire on errands to the Havens and our lands about the Firth of Lhûn, and thus have passed through the Green Hills country fairly often, although few Hobbits will bother to speak with me.  But then, few Hobbits of the Shire willingly deal with Men anyway.”

            Pippin shrugged.  “True enough,” he allowed.  “We seem to be far more comfortable dealing with Dwarves than we do Men, although we even tend to ignore them as often as not.”  He checked his glass and saw there was still a swallow of juice within it, and finished it off before asking, “So, you lived in the Chieftain’s village, did you?  Then you knew Aragorn all your life?”

            “Not quite all of my life.”

            “No?  But you said that you lived in the Chieftain’s village.”

            Bardamir smiled.  “Living in the village of the Chieftain means but little when he does not live there himself.  He had not lived there since he was two winters old.”

            “Then where did he live?”

            “In the house of Elrond, in the hidden vale of Rivendell.  Most of our people did not know he yet lived, for it was told about that he’d died of the fevers that swept throughout Eriador that year.  My older brother, who was but three years of age, also died, and but a day before it was said that Arathorn’s son died.  Both he and his mother were fighting the fevers, you must understand.  Word had but recently come that our Lord Arathorn had been slain by an orc’s arrow whilst out upon a patrol, and so taken by grief was our Lady Gilraen that she, too, appeared in danger for her own life.  When it was reported that her son had died as well as her husband and that she was struggling to withstand the loss, none was surprised that she was taken to Lord Elrond for to be healed.  What did surprise my parents and most others was that she did not choose to return to us.  Few mortals are comfortable dwelling for long periods of time amongst the Elves, you see, for they see us all as children, considering how short our lives are compared to theirs.  That she remained there to be with her son as he grew up was something none had considered save for the very few who knew that he had recovered from his illness.”

            The Man sighed and shook his head.  “I must say that I am surprised to realize you did not know of this, as long as you and your fellows remained within Elrond’s home whilst you awaited the time to leave upon your quest.”

            Pippin could only shrug.  “We didn’t see all that much of Strider while we were there in Rivendell.  He was there while Frodo was ill, until after Lord Elrond managed to get that horrible Morgul shard out of him, and then there was the Council, to which neither Merry nor I was invited, and then he was gone, searching with the others for any sign that the Black Riders might remain anywhere about, ready to pounce upon us once we were on our way south and east.  And when he came back, he rarely had time to talk or to share tales, or not with Merry or me, at least.  We worked on our swordsmanship with Boromir mostly, and sometimes explored about.  Frodo probably learned about him growing up in Rivendell, either from him or from Bilbo, and I wouldn’t be surprised to know that Sam had learned about it, too.  But for Merry and me----”  Again he shrugged, his mouth twisted wryly.  “So, you were ten when he returned to your people?  Was that when you got to know him?  How old was he then?”

            Bardamir smiled.  “He was twenty, and was considered a Man grown.  At first I had no idea who he was or why he was in the village.  It was just after Midsummer.  Most of the elders of our people had been called away to a conference at Amon Sûl on the evening of Midsummer, so our usual festivals were not as we children were accustomed to.  And when Lord Halbaleg, who’d served as our Steward since the death of Lord Arathorn, returned, he brought with him this strange youth who was dressed much as the Elves dressed, not like any of our fathers or older brothers, you see.  It was about time for the young Men who were training as Rangers to go out upon their first patrol with Malvegern and Baerdion, who worked with our newest trainees, so we were told he was a Dúnedain youth who’d been fostered by Elves, but who was expected to take on the duties of a warrior of our people.  I didn’t see much of him save for at a distance, for when the other young Men in the patrol came to my father’s ale house on the evenings they had free before they must ride out, he did not come with them.  Only after the patrol was over did it come to be known that this was in fact Aragorn, the son of our late Lord Arathorn and his wife, and thus was proper Chieftain to our people.”

            Pippin was fascinated.  “So, he didn’t come to your father’s inn until he came back from his first patrol as a trainee, then?”

            Bardamir laughed.  “It was no inn, not really.  But there is the family recipe for ale that my grandfather and father brewed after they were each wounded and could no longer go out upon patrol themselves, and many times the Men of our village will come to the ale house after a long day of laboring in our fields or in whatever tasks each has taken to himself for the support of our people.  So, as our father’s children my brothers and sisters and I saw more of most of the Men of our village than many others.  But young Lord Aragorn was of a sober sort, and was not given overmuch to the drinking of ale or wine, and rarely came of an evening as he sought to learn more of our ways.

            “Nay, I must admit that the first I saw him face to face was at the Turning of the Year, that first winter after he returned to us.”  His eyes were focused on the memories, and he laughed again.  “He was portraying the Yule Dwarf, you see, and was most uncomfortable in the role—at least he was at first.”

            Pippin straightened on his bench.  “He was playing the Yule Dwarf?  But I thought that this was a Took tradition!  I mean, not many families in the Shire have the Yule Dwarf visit their children besides the Tooks!”

            Bardamir’s laugh was infectious, Pippin found.  “Oh, I know.  But it appears that Aragorn’s grandsire Arador fell ill or was injured one winter when he was riding through the Shire, returning from our lands about the Firth of Lhûn.  The Thain at the time found him laid low in a thicket where he’d taken shelter, and he had his people bring him to the Great Smials to be given what help he needed to recover.  It was Foreyule, as your people know it, when Arador came to stay with them.  And he was fascinated to learn how your people celebrate Yule.  When a particularly fat Hobbit arrived in a sleigh drawn by a pig, wearing armor made of foil and carrying a great axe made of pasteboard, his face half hidden behind a beard apparently made from sheep’s wool, Arador was intrigued.  The idea that the children seemed to believe that this was indeed a Dwarf caught at his fancy, and he saw how pleased they were to receive small trinkets from this person.

            “Arador returned to us a month later, having made a full recovery, and he carried with him great respect for the Tooks, who had shown him such kindness.”

            For a moment Bardamir went quiet, a fond smile on his lips.  “My papa was but a young boy himself that next winter, which was a bad one for our village.  There were several heavy snowfalls, each leaving behind even more snow than the last one.  And, of course there were illnesses, possibly some sent from Mordor to seek to destroy our people.  There was a bad fire that burned down the storage building in which most of our food for the winter was kept, and many found themselves in desperate want.  Lord Arador sent those of our Men who were able to travel through the deep snow to other villages to bring back supplies to see us through, and if it had not been for a line of sleighs from one particular village that was better protected than we had been, and for food sent from Elrond as well, it is likely most of those in our village would have died.

            “Some of those who spent much time carving wood or doing needlework and such had little else to do, and began making all sorts of items to fill the time.  We had a good supply of cloth available, at least—that was one of the things Arador had been bringing back from Lhûn, cloth.  One older woman who loved to sew began making dolls, each more elaborate than the last, while one of those who worked with wood began making a herd of horses, some with jointed legs.  A woman who knitted created soft animals of wool, and another who did hookwork made even more such toys, scarves with which to wrap babies, and soft balls that could be thrown about within the house with no fear of things being broken.  And others made other things.

            “One of those who died that winter was a young woman, a healer and a teacher of children.  She had been married but a few years and had two small children.  Her death caused great grief throughout our village, and particularly in her son and daughter.  They had been weakened by the cold and illness.  Many feared that they would lose all hope and die to follow their mother.  Lord Arador decided that this should not be, so he called as many as would come to the ale house to discuss what might be done to draw the hearts of these children away from despair and to awaken them to the possibilities of life instead.  And he suggested that we find a way to use the Hobbits’ tradition of the Yule Dwarf to encourage laughter and pleasure in all of the children.

            “Those who had made things that might be gifts for the children agreed to provide them as presents, and discussion was held as to how the idea of the Yule Dwarf might be presented.  We of the Dúnedain do not easily lie, not even to amuse.  It was decided that it should be obvious from the start that this was no true Dwarf, and so the tallest Man in the village was chosen to play the part.  There was one who worked land east of our village who stood half a head taller even than Lord Arador, so he was the one who was to do so.

            “So it was that the Man chosen to portray the Yule Dwarf was dressed in outlandish armor, a beard made of horsehair glued to his face, carrying a long axe that had been fitted with a great false blade of foil hiding its true blade, bringing with him a heavy large bag in which gifts had been placed for each of our children.  And the boy and girl over whom all had worried were so amazed to see someone who towered over them so pretending to be a Dwarf that not even they could keep from laughing with the rest.  They began to recover, my papa told me, from that evening, and I remember the woman who had been that girl from my childhood, for she was as dearly loved by all as had been her own mama.  And the tradition was continued from that year, and spread throughout most of the villages within the Angle, always with the tallest Man within the village taking on the role of the Yule Dwarf.”

            “I am glad to hear that the children recovered,” Pippin said, delighted with the tale so far.  “So, Aragorn ought to have felt honored to follow in that tradition.”

            Bardamir grinned widely.  “One would think so, no?  Oh, but when he returned to us I do not think anyone had thought to tell him of this tradition, probably not even his mother.  Remember, he had not been among our people since he was two years old, and most likely had no real memory of going out into the center of the village to greet the coming of the Yule Dwarf after the communal feast, there before the New Fire was lit.  The Elves of Rivendell have their own ways of celebrating the Turning of the Year, ways that included fire, dancing, and song, but far more graceful and beautiful than that to which we mortals are given, I am certain.  And for all that he knew himself to be a mortal, still he had been raised primarily by Elves, and had grown up with Elven sensibilities.  He had been raised with a deeper appreciation for the roles of the Powers than most mortals ever know, and his utterance of the traditional words of praise usually offered as the New Fire flares up can truly lift the heart.  But it was not until that first Mettarë was upon us that it was realized that he had no knowledge of what would be expected of him as the tallest Man now within the village.  He had been in the hall of the Keep with his Uncle Halbaleg as the bundles of gifts to be presented to the children were brought in with as much secrecy could be arranged, and had been told that these were to be distributed to the children after the feast.  That hewas to be the one to give out these gifts he did not understand, much less the circumstances under which he was to give them out!”

            Pippin was now laughing.  “That must have been quite the feat, convincing him he must dress up as a Dwarf and come into the village with a sack filled with toys to give to the children!”

            “Indeed,” the Man said, nodding.  “My papa was among those who tried to explain what was expected of him.  If he had no appreciation that he would have to do such a thing, apparently no one within the village had taken thought of the fact that he was likely to not understand just how much this particular part of our Mettarë celebrations had come to mean to our people, and particularly to those of us who were children.  I mean, I was but ten, but realizing he was the tallest Man I’d ever seen I already knew he would play the Yule Dwarf that year, as did most of the other children, and many of us had already approached him with word of what we would like to receive for Yule, and he could not understand why.”

            He shook his head.  “My papa told me of the shock he displayed when his grandmother came to measure him for the armor and to see what alterations might be needed that he could wear the beard properly.  When they tried to explain about the tradition he could not understand it at all.  He kept asking, ‘But why am I to dress up as a Dwarf?  Who would even believe I should be a Dwarf?’  That everyone would understand from the beginning that he was nota Dwarf and that this was part of the reason he and no other should play the role went completely over his head!”

            Pippin was shaking with laughter.  “And considering how tall he is, that is saying a good deal!  We expect our Yule Dwarves to be decidedly fat, but that you should want them to be exceptionally tall….”  He wiped away tears of mirth.

            “Oh, yes!” Bardamir agreed, his smile even wider than before.  “He looked at the armor that his grandmother had brought and objected that it was like nothing he’d ever seen before, and that it didn’t even look like proper Dwarf armor anyway.  He’d seen Dwarves, it proved, there within Rivendell.”

            “Yes, he would have,” Pippin said, thinking for a moment.  “Yes, he would have seen them when Bilbo was there with Thorin Oakenshield and Gimli’s father Glóin and the rest.  I do remember now Bilbo telling us, when we were there in Rivendell, I mean, that the first time he’d seen Strider was when they passed through there going to the Lonely Mountain, and that Aragorn was just a child at the time.  So, he had definitely been in a position to see what real Dwarf armor was like.”

            “I understand that in the end Lord Halbaleg had to shout at him that it didn’t matter at all whether the armor was true Dwarf armor, but that it only had to look different enough from Men’s and Elves’ armor to be accepted as possibly being Dwarf armor for the sake of our children.  At last Aragorn stopped objecting, but mostly because he realized it was doing no good at all.  Then they had to convince him that he couldn’t walk like an Elf, but that he had to walk as if he had real weight to him if he was to be accepted as the Yule Dwarf, and he had to make his voice low and to laugh as if he might be a Dwarf as well.  As for the beard—that, too, was something he could not appreciate the reason for, particularly when he pointed out that it didn’t look like a real Dwarf’s beard.  Lord Halbaleg was at the point of tearing out his own beard before they got him to understand that even though he was being presented as the Yule Dwarf, everyone already knew that he was not a Dwarf after all—that all he had to do was announce he wasthe Yule Dwarf and get on with the giving of the gifts.

            “Late during the feast of Mettarë he was drawn away from the table at which Lord Halbaleg and his family sat.  It was Halbarad who was tasked with seeing him dressed in the costume and with attaching the beard to his face.  At least since his own beard had not begun to grow as yet he did not have to shave it off so that the glue should not catch in it.

            “As Halbarad told us later, it was quite the ordeal to get him readied that first year, for Aragorn was not at all happy to have to portray a lie, or so he thought of it at the time.  The clothing to be worn under the armor was heavy, and he found the great boots he must wear to be bulky and uncomfortable, but not quite long enough to properly fit his feet.  As for the armor, he swore that it would not protect anyone from any kind of a blow from an enemy.  I understand that he so complained and all but wept at the indignity of it all that Halbarad was reduced to swearing that if he did not cease his whinging he, Halbarad, would punch him in the mouth and that it did not matter who his father had been or that he was intended to be our Chieftain.  He said that this threat so surprised his lord kinsman that Aragorn looked upon him with shock and disbelief, but at least he finally shut his mouth and kept his complaints to himself.”

            Bardamir looked upwards, his mouth pursed with the memory of it.  “I remember how we children were made to form rows, the smallest in front and the tallest at the back.  We could all see him approaching, his legs stiff as he tried to walk heavily as he had been instructed, although he found walking in those boots, which fit him badly to begin with, difficult from the start.  His expression was grim, and my little cousin who stood in front of me was frightened by what he could see of the Yule Dwarf’s face.  Not that carrying that bag of gifts slung over his shoulder was a particularly easy task, mind you.”

            “Did certain people still make most of the gifts as they did that first year?” asked Pippin.

            Bardamir shook his head.  “Some people still made small items that were offered to those children who had no other gifts coming.  But mostly the parents or guardians for each child provided a single gift for their child to be given at that time.  For many of the boys who were approaching fifteen that meant they were receiving long knives or short swords, bows or quivers of arrows, a public acknowledgment that they would be expected to begin training to protect our people within the coming year.  Many older girls would receive sets of mixing bowls, or hand looms, or perhaps shuttles of colorful yarns or thread with which to do their first weavings of cloth upon the looms in their families’ homes.  There were still toys for the younger children, although many whose parents worked the land would receive small sickles or hand plows so that they might walk beside their parents at the harvests or at the spring planting and help as they were able.”

            “I see,” Pippin said.

            Bardamir continued, “A certain chair, almost a throne, has been set out for the Yule Dwarf for as long as I can remember, and when at last he reached it, Aragorn practically fell into it.  He’d been followed by Halbarad, who stood behind him, his own face set as he watched to see that Aragorn did the job properly.  He prompted Aragorn as to what he should say that we would know that he was indeed our Yule Dwarf, and I remember seeing the looks of fury exchanged as he prodded Aragorn to pull the bag of gifts around in front of him so that he might reach within it for the next gift for presentation.  Each present was supposed to have a tag attached so that Aragorn might know to whom it was to be given, but of course some tags had become dislodged when the bag was filled or as he carried it through the village.  Lord Halbaleg, who’d been the Yule Dwarf for several years, could recognize by how the gifts were wrapped who had furnished them, and with a simple glance at the donor would receive an indication as to which child it should be given.  But Aragorn did not know those who lived within the village all that well as yet, and had no idea for whom a particular item might have been intended.

            “I am not completely certain just why he did not throw his hands over the helmet he wore and flee, but he sat there growing obviously more and more frustrated as he fought to remove from the sack objects with odd shapes that seemed intent on catching in the folds of cloth that then had to be held up so that he could learn which child should be called forward to receive them.

            “There was one boy of an age with me, Tennig, whose body was twisted and whose mind was quite simple.  He was often ill, and he only lived three more years after that first Yule our Chieftain returned to us.  He watched with pleased excitement as the Yule Dwarf arrived with his sack, and although he commented to the girl beside him that this was a different Yule Dwarf than he’d seen before, he did not appear to be worried by the fact that this Yule Dwarf appeared to be so clumsy or uncertain.  When the gift for him was held up, he recognized the skin bag in which it was contained as belonging to his papa, and he stood up immediately to claim it, before any of the adults could name him.  Something about how eager he was to receive it from the Yule Dwarf’s hand caught Aragorn’s attention, and his scowl faded away as Tennig approached him.  He took Tennig upon his lap and presented him with the bag, and asked him how he knew it was his own.  And when Tennig opened it before us all and found it contained a gardening fork and trowel, and it was plain that he was so pleased to receive such as a gift that he turned to hug Aragorn about his neck, we could see that Aragorn forgot in that moment how upset he’d been to be asked to take on this role to begin with, and he hugged Tennig in return and set him gently upon his feet so he could return to his place.  Afterward he would show each gift to Halbarad, who would whisper to him the name to call, and he greeted the arrival of the children with smiles and quiet and cheerful words.

            “When it was my turn I received a toy boat my uncle had made for me, and the Yule Dwarf commented on how beautifully it was constructed and of the fine detail it showed, and he reminded me that allowing others to play with it would make it even more enjoyable, although he did tell me that if any mishandled it I should not allow them to touch it again.  I thought this last to be most satisfactory advice, and I remember thanking him for it, and seeing how his eyes shone with pleasure for my delight with the gift.”

            “So, in spite of everything he turned out to be a most satisfactory Yule Dwarf anyway.”

            “That he did.  Although there was one more mishap.”

            “There was?  What was that?”

            Bardamir leaned forward to confide, “Well, the trews of the costume were not of a proper fit for him, and as he rose to his feet and turned around, we could all hear a rip of cloth, and we saw that the seam of his trews had split right up the back.  He stopped and looked back, and he shook his head so hard that the helmet fell off and landed upon the ground with a loud clunk, and he left it lying there as he held his hands behind him, trying to cover up the rent in his costume as he fled into the meeting hall.  We children loved it!  But after that we noticed that the Yule Dwarf now wore quite a bright cloak over his armor, a cloak that would most adequately hide any further such problems.”

            Pippin was still laughing when Frodo returned to the guesthouse from the Citadel a short time afterward.




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