The Gift of Love (A Yuletide Story) by Cathleen

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Story Notes:

Written for the GFic Group’s Second Annual
Yule Fic Exchange!
Published December 31, 2008


Author's Chapter Notes:

Pippin is eleven years old, approximately six and a half in man years.

Beta: Dreamflower
Written for Pearl Took!
Story Request: "I'd like a story where Pippin is, in some way, the present. He should be between 8 and 12 years old and an active participant in the story."


“The Gift of Love”
Chapter One

The morning sky was cloudless, pristine, and filled with the promise of a new day. The air was crisp yet comfortable. A flock of sparrows had settled in the garden, eager to pick at the sunflower seeds he’d mixed with suet as a special Yule treat for the birds. It was a tradition that he and Bilbo had begun during his very first winter at Bag End. Now, as Frodo gazed out the window of the luxurious smial left to him by the old hobbit, the fond memories of that first Yule after his adoption warred with his melancholy. He sighed and turned away from watching the sparrows. It would seem that melancholy was winning the battle, at least for now.

He hadn’t felt quite so alone and lost since his parents died and the feelings welling up inside him now were an uncomfortable reminder of other painful times. Frodo smiled sadly, recalling the merriment filling the smial just last week when Paladin had stopped in for a brief visit while passing through Hobbiton on his way home to Tuckborough. He had come to deliver Merry to Bag End. The lad had been at the Took farm for a lengthy visit while there was illness at his home. But everyone was well now and excited about the upcoming festivities. Merry had asked to visit with Frodo until it was time for someone to come and fetch them for the trip to Buckland for the Yule celebration with all their relatives. He knew that his older cousin hadn’t been himself since Bilbo had left the Shire.

Pippin had been with them, and his little cousin seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for constant excitement. He smiled to himself at the memory of the eleven year old racing through Bag End, Merry on his heels, the two of them dodging in and out around the luxurious furnishings, and how nimbly Paladin had saved a falling vase as they passed. Of course, he’d no doubt had a great deal of practice at rescuing valuables with such a rambunctious son. Later, Pippin had talked them all into playing a game of ‘Hide and Seek’. Frodo couldn’t help laughing aloud as he recalled just where they had located Pippin at last. The child had secreted himself in a far corner of the pantry and devoured almost an entire pot of strawberry jam while he waited. Of course he had almost as much of the treat on his chin and his clothes as had got into his tummy.

The youngster had proved to be a champion at concealing himself and only allowing himself to be found if he wanted to. Frodo wondered, not for the first time, if perhaps Pippin had planned the game in order to get into the forbidden sweets before tea. He often thought that the lad was not at all as innocent as others seemed to think. It was clear to him that Pippin had already learned to use his charming manner and sweet impish look to pull the wool over their eyes and redirect their attention elsewhere. This pretense was obvious in the way Pippin had stared up at his displeased father with his big green eyes so wide and innocent. Frodo had sniggered at the scene as he watched Paladin’s stern frown turn into first a twitch at the corner of his mouth, and then an uproarious chuckle as he scooped up his sticky son and carried him off to the bathroom for a much-needed wash.

Yes, Frodo decided his little cousin definitely knew how to play the adults for all they were worth, and sometimes he found himself slightly in awe of the lengths Pippin went to. He’d seen Merry giving a roll of his eyes as they watched Pippin’s antics and thought that perhaps Merry was pretty well aware of what the lad was up to as well. Pippin had gleefully waved his hand at them as he was slung over his father’s shoulder, sprinkling dots of red jam in their direction.

Now, Merry had always been full of mischief, with many of his tricks learned from Frodo himself. But he had the feeling Pippin would soon outdo both of them in finding trouble and then extracting himself skillfully from the consequences. The lad was an extraordinary work in progress.

Ah, well. Frodo strolled through the smial; his hands were now wrapped around a cup of warm tea to take the chill away, his mind still running through the memories. He paused at the window in the parlour to look outside again. It seemed the early sunshine was now giving way to clouds and it looked like it would snow. Well, it seldom snowed that much here. Perhaps the sight of the feathery flakes would cheer him up.

Merry had, thankfully, given up on his mission to convince him to change his mind about attending the Yule celebration at Brandy Hall, at least for now. Frodo sighed again, recalling the recurrent battle with his young cousin that had taken place over the last few days. Frodo had suffered a loss; his life had changed drastically and he simply didn’t feel like celebrating. No, it was best if he spent this Yule all by himself at Bag End. He would watch the birds, prepare a nice meal and read a book.

~~~

Meriadoc Brandybuck had his serious side, not unlike his cousin Frodo, although often he was thought of as the young lad with an eye for tomfoolery and mischief. But no matter what he had done during this visit to try and cheer Frodo up, nothing had worked. Oh, he’d tried many things, from performing some of Great Auntie Pringle’s birdcalls, to making some of the disagreeable faces Lobelia Sackville-Baggins had when Bilbo disappeared at his eleventy-first birthday party, to imitating Gaffer Gamgee’s laments about how the weather affected his old bones. Now that had almost got a smile out of Frodo because Merry was quite good at mimicking the voices and mannerisms of others—almost. Well, if he’d thought standing on his head and wriggling his ears would have helped, then Merry would have gladly done that too. He hadn’t seen Frodo in such a state of gloom in years and it was starting to cause him his own bout of despair. His cousin’s sad face reminded Merry of that terrible time right after Frodo’s parents had died.

And now it was almost time for him to return to Buckland where all of their relatives would soon gather to celebrate Yule. . .and Frodo was refusing to come. He simply couldn’t allow that to be, and yet he wasn’t sure what else to do. He’d tried pleading, sweet-talking, sulking, and even shouting. He’d even thought of pitching a fit that would have put their young Took cousin to shame. And yes, he had even tried threatening to hold his breath until he turned blue! That comment had actually drawn a chuckle from Frodo, who’d calmly informed him that when Merry roused from his swoon, he’d gladly offer him a hand to get to his feet if he needed it.

At that last remark, Merry had decided to go for a walk to think things through. It was on that outing that he realised the only times during this visit when Frodo seemed his old self was when he was with Pippin. The youngster had definitely cheered up their older cousin and Merry wanted to see that happen again. If only Frodo wasn’t being so obstinate! Couldn’t he see what fun he’d have being around the family, and especially the little ones who made him smile? Perhaps there was some way to bring Pippin to Bag End for First Yule? After Frodo was sufficiently cheered up it should be easy to get him to come to Brandy Hall for the rest of the celebration. But how was he going to convince his parents and Pippin’s to allow it?

Merry squinted through the thin shelter of trees just ahead on the path, noticing that the sunshine was fading. He shivered at the increasing breeze and pulled his cloak tighter around his throat. It was growing colder. The carriage would come later this morning and he would travel back to the farm alone. From there, he and Pippin and the rest of the Tooks would head to Buckland together. . .but without Frodo. He had to do something.


The Took Farm
Whitwell

“But Merry, dear, everyone will be expecting us at Brandy Hall! The plans are already made and we’ll be ready to start out on the trip in only two days. Besides that, your father and mother won’t agree to you going either, I know it. No, it simply won’t work, my lad. The celebration has already been arranged and we’re expected to be there like any other year. It’s best if we think of another way to cheer Frodo up.”

“But--” Merry continued his protest, but Eglantine held up a hand to stop him.

“No. Enough, now. Your uncle can make one last attempt at convincing him to come before we leave, but if that doesn’t work there’s nothing else we can do. Frodo is an adult and he can refuse to join us if that is his wish.”

“But Aunt Tina, I’m sure it’s not his wish. He’s lonely and glum ever since Cousin Bilbo left and he’s not getting any better! He hasn’t even been eating much.”

“Oh?” That caught Eglantine’s attention and she sighed. “Poor lad.” She laid a hand on her nephew’s shoulder. “Merry, we know it’s been very difficult for him since Bilbo left and it’s going to take time for him to adjust. Frodo knows we’re here for him, but if he feels he can’t be in Buckland for Yule then we have to respect his decision.”

Merry muttered under his breath as he counted the battle lost, but not the war. He would find a way to convince them, but there wasn’t a great deal of time left. He trotted off to find Pippin, leaving his aunt and cousins Pearl and Pimpernel to finish their baking.

Later that day the sky appeared a great deal darker; the clouds hung low and seemed more foreboding. The air felt like ice and the wind was rising. It whistled around the corner of the farmhouse in a sudden huge gust that almost knocked Eglantine off her feet as she emerged from the cellar. Shivering, she struggled with her burden and called over her shoulder to her daughters.

“Oh my, it looks like it’s going to start snowing any minute and this wind will take your very breath away! Pearl, hurry please, help me get these things into the mudroom before the storm comes.” Her voice grew more breathless as she shouted against the wind.

Pearl came out next, her arms loaded with jars of the special spices they needed for baking, carefully preserved during the harvest and stored in the farm’s root cellar. Behind her, Pimpernel was attempting to balance a heavy basket on her hip as she ducked her head into the harsh wind. She had her younger sister in tow and gave Pervinca a solid tug to move her along. At last they tumbled inside the mudroom and Pimpernel pulled hard on the door, closing it firmly behind them. She leaned against it trying to catch her breath and laughing.

“Whew, I do believe ‘tis going to be a blizzard out there soon if that wind keeps howling!”

“But we never get very much snow,” Pervinca pointed out.

“Remember the tales of the great Fell Winter? It can happen, Vinca.” Pimpernel picked up her basket loaded with apples and cheese and headed into the house.
“Besides, it’s really the wind that creates a blizzard. We may not get much snow.”

Pearl set the spices on the sideboard and peered out the window. She could see her father and some of the hired hands working furiously to finish their preparations for the storm. She knew the cows and ponies had to be seen to, as well as making sure everything was closed up tight against the weather.

“Mum?” Pervinca’s voice was small as she tugged on her mother’s apron. “Is that true? Are we going to have another Fell Winter?”

“Oh, don’t worry, child. We may well receive a big storm but I very much doubt we’re going to have another winter like that one.” She frowned at Pimpernel, who simply shrugged as if to say her mother knew it was the truth. The weather conditions over the last few weeks had proven to be very erratic and even Da had made several comments about having a harsh winter.

“Come, children. Let’s get supper started before everyone comes in. I have a great deal to accomplish before bedtime and I’ll need all the help I can get.”

In the barn, Paladin worked with two of the hired hobbits, Tomias Hornblower and Togo Burrows, rushing about to get everything secured for what might prove to be a long and restless night. As if that wasn’t enough, Orangeblossom was due to freshen any day now and Paladin hoped it would be before they left for the journey to Brandy Hall. While he knew the farmhands were quite capable of handling things he preferred to be present in case there were any problems.

“Hurry up lads, that wind is picking up more every minute and I want everyone to get inside where it’s warm the minute the chores are finished.” Paladin made another circuit around the barn, checking to see that all the stock had been fed and plenty of fresh hay had been put down.

Tomias nodded and trotted off to finish his work. All around them, hobbits scurried about, anxious to be done with their tasks and inside sipping a hot cup of tea and enjoying a pipe filled with good Longbottom leaf.

~~~

Pippin shrieked in delight at Merry’s idea, and clapped his hands. “I want to do it, Merry!” He was practically dancing a jig around his older cousin in his delight with the scheme.

“We have to talk your parents into it first, you know.”

“But it’s ForeYule and that ought to be all right. And then Frodo can come to the Hall with us for AfterYule!” Pippin tilted his head in thought. “Or perhaps we can persuade everyone to come to Bag End instead!”

“Now, what a surprise that would be.” Merry sighed. “But it might not work. The best solution would be for everyone to simply come with us to Bag End to celebrate.”

“YES! Cousin Frodo would be thrilled!”

“Shh! They’ll hear,” Merry cautioned.

“What are you giggling about, Pippin?” Pervinca studied her little brother suspiciously as she rounded the corner and entered the parlour. Merry said nothing and turned away to place another log on the fire.

“You lads had best fetch in some more wood from the shed,” Pimpernel told them as she hurried past, her arms full of blankets. “The night will be very cold and we’ll need to keep the fires burning. Come now, everyone must shake a leg and help out!”

“Pervinca, come back and help us get everything that we’ve brought from the cellar into the kitchen,” Eglantine called. “I want to get the doors closed up tight the moment your father gets in.”

More scurrying about, accompanied by giggles and some pushing and pulling amongst the younger ones. Eglantine took a moment away from her work to enjoy the sight of her children gathered around all safe and sound. The youngsters seemed to find joy in everything they did, even when things were serious. She smiled and resumed her work with a shake of her head.

~~~

The wind continued to pick up even more during the night and now it was snowing. The sudden smack of a tree branch or perhaps something else against the window of his room had stirred him from his slumber. Frodo pulled the blankets up to his chin and settled back into the warmth, trying to recapture the lovely dream he’d been having. Bilbo was back and everyone was together for Yule. Frodo was much younger and filled with the wonder of the celebration as only a child can be. Gaily decorated tables groaned with bounty, the scent of rich foods filling the air of the smial. He sniffed the air in delighted anticipation.

The holly and mistletoe were hung and the warm fire caused beads of sweat to form on his brow, but he didn't mind. The music had begun, and it was soft and low, sweet with the warmth of a summer's sun. The voices of his family murmured around him and there, in the corner of the parlour in his favourite chair, sat Bilbo, regarding them all with a customary twinkle in his eyes.

It was perfect, all of it, and he wished to settle back into his dream and remain there. Soon, he was asleep again.


The insistent rapping at the front door forced him from his warm bed at last. Frodo peered out a window at the blowing snow and rubbed at his bleary eyes. He glanced at the clock on the mantle. Midnight. Who would be fool enough to come calling this late, and in the middle of a blizzard, no less? Frodo pulled the round, green door open; it was difficult in the screaming wind, but at last he managed. On the doorstep huddled a small, shivering form wrapped tightly in a cloak.

“Whatever are you doing here?” Frodo cried, his alarm increasing when he realised who it was and pulled him inside. “Get in here, it’s freezing out there! What, surely you’re not alone?”

Pippin giggled into his mittened hands. “Of course not!” He gestured over his shoulder at the glistening world beyond Bag End. “Look at what I’ve done!”

Frodo stared where his little cousin pointed, his eyes widening at the sight. “Oh, Pippin,” he breathed and knelt to embrace the child. “What have you done?”




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