Written for: Larner
Requested:I would like a story in which a misunderstanding is resolved, but preferably not involving Elves from Mirkwood, unless it is a misunderstanding between Legolas and Gimli or another Fellowship character.
Setting: Third Age, the Yule immediately after Bilbo's birthday party, set in the town of Dale
Characters: Bilbo Baggins, Dwalin and King Bain of Dale
Summary: The Tale of Years states that Bilbo visited Dale and the Lonely Mountain before returning to Imladris to settle there permanently. This is what happened to him during that visit, which I am postulating took place at Yule TA 3001.
Rhîw 3002, Imladris
"Master Elrond? I'm not disturbing you, am I?" Bilbo peered in through the doorway of the Master of Imladris' study after rapping on the door frame.
Elrond laid down his pen and smiled gently at the elderly Hobbit. He noted that there seemed to be a bit more grey in Bilbo's hair since he'd seen him when he'd passed through Rivendell in the autumn of 3001. "You are always welcome in my study, Bilbo. You need not knock or ask permission every time."
"Eh, well, I'd rather not make assumptions and take liberties, not after what happened in Dale last Yule." Bilbo moved a bit stiffly, favoring his right knee as he crossed the blue, silver star-strewn carpet to the chair that had been especially built for his use.
Elrond raised an eyebrow. "After what happened in Dale last Yule?" He set the journal in which he had been writing aside and turned his chair to face his guest more fully. A plate of ginger biscuits, savory cheese and a decanter of wine rested on the corner of the desk and he put together a plate with a generous serving of each and offered it to Bilbo.
"Thank you. Ah, that's a tale to tell." Bilbo took a sip of wine and a bite of a biscuit and grinned ruefully. "You would think that after my travels I would be able to remember that not everyone has the same customs as in the Shire, or here in this sanctuary of yours."
Intrigued, Elrond leaned back in his chair with his own cup of wine and, with a wave of his hand, invited the hobbit to continue.
* * * * *
Rhîw 3001, Dale
The winter winds swept across the vast rolling plains to the east of the Long Lake, and Bilbo shivered atop his pony, despite the layers of wooly underwear, knitted westkit, heavy coat and the cloak over all. Perhaps he ought to have chosen to winter over in Rivendell after all, in warmth and comfort with the poetry and music of the elves to listen to, and the company of Lord Elrond and his people. Yet, the desire to see the Lonely Mountain one last time burned in his heart, and a part of him seemed to say that he may never have another opportunity to do so if he forfeited this one.
"Not much further to Dale, Bilbo," Dwalin promised, tromping along the trade road by Bilbo's side. They were bypassing the rebuilt Laketown in order to get to the seat of King Bain's domain before the snow-laden clouds looming to the north and west covered the pale blue sky and released their burden. "They know to expect us."
"Good! My old bones are feeling the cold. Do you think they'll have something hot for us to eat as soon as we get there?" he asked hopefully.
His old friend, nodded. Dwalin was bundled up against the wintery weather himself, his dark green hood pulled close over his head and the tassel attached to the point, blowing about in the wind along with his white beard. "As I said, they are expecting us. The hospitality of the Men of Dale is almost as good as the hospitality of the Dwarves!"
Bilbo grinned at him, and turned his attention to urging the patient pony on towards the just visible city that sprawled at the foot of the Lonely Mountain, the smoke from it's multitude of chimneys blowing away eastward ahead of the wind.
* * * * *
The King's Hall was nothing like Bilbo had expected. He, of course, had no idea of what Dale had been like before the Dragon Smaug had descended upon the Lonely Mountain, but to find that King Bain's home wasn't so much a castle, but a manor with a workshop and a huge gathering hall was a surprise.
The bells of the town rang out cheerfully at midday as Bilbo and the party of dwarves came through the gates. The village, re-built by Bard, had become so prosperous over two generations that it could rightly be called a city now.
Despite the cold weather and bitter wind, the citizenry were out and about in the streets, moving from house to house and workshop to workshop. Braziers were set about the market square and groups of men and women clustered around them, gossiping one with another, while small children ran about, shrieking with excitement at the sight of the Dwarven pony train from the southwest.
Fascinated, Bilbo stared around at everything, and his stomach rumbled at the scent of baking bread and cakes in the air. He grinned and waved at the children, who, despite their size, reminded him very much of the faunts and teens of Hobbiton and the Shire this time of year.
The stone and wood buildings were festooned with pine garlands and their doors decorated with fanciful and intricate wreaths and sprays of woven straw tied with scarlet ribbons. The pealing of the bells continued as Dwalin led Bilbo on the pony to the center of town where, at the east side of a broad square, King Bain's home was built.
The elderly son of King Brand stood at the top of the steps which were framed by potted evergreen trees decorated with smaller versions of the straw door decorations and gaily painted wooden and metal ornaments. He was smiling broadly, the wind whipping his white beard and hair about along with his green woolen cloak. Green mittens warmed his hands, and he wore a fur-trimmed red velvet robe.
As Bilbo dismounted and shook out his own cloak, he realized that he could see the features of Bard in the faces of the current King and of the younger Man who stood at his side, garbed warmly in blue and green.
The hobbit walked with Dwalin up the half dozen steps and stopped to bow to Bain. "Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, at your service!" Dwalin echoed the greeting, as did the other dwarves that made up their party of fourteen.
"Welcome to Dale, Master Bilbo Baggins, Lord Dwalin of the Lonely Mountain and friends. Come inside to warmth and good company… and to a good meal and hot cider to warm you." Bain indicated the open door with a wave and walked beside the former Burglar, followed by the younger man and Dwalin. "My son, Brand, will show you to your rooms once you've gotten warmed up in the great hall."
Bilbo sighed with pleasure as the great doors closed behind them, cutting of the freezing wind. Silent but smiling servants relieved the guests, the king and the prince of their cloaks and carried them off while he gazed about, fascinated by what he saw.
The interior of Bain's House was a pleasing mix of Mannish and Dwarvish craft, stone and wood and iron combining to make a place that spoke of pride, strength and a very different kind of beauty than that of the Shire and of the Elvish realm of Imladris. The high-beamed gathering hall was headed by a raised dais with a long table surrounded by wooden chairs. Their steepled backs were carved with angled designs that seemed "off" to eyes that were more used to the round shapes of a hobbit hole and the smooth arcs and curves of Elvish architecture.
Several trestle tables were propped up along the wall to Bilbo's left as the King, telling him a bit of the history of the gathering hall, guided him through the throng of cheerfully dressed people who milled through the large room. To the right a massive hearth burned steadily, the stone chimney drawing so well that only a pleasant hint of wood smoke flavored the warm air.
"This is the first building that was put up when my father decided to re-establish Dale and take up the rule that would have been his had the dragon not come to the Mountain. He wished to have a place that all could come to and find shelter and succor, as the Master of Laketown had succored and sheltered Girion and his mother when Smaug destroyed all. Ever since it has been a place to gather and celebrate the blessings we have received—all thanks to you, Master Baggins."
Bilbo demurred the praise. "Anyone would have done the same, your majesty."
Bain looked as if he didn't believe it, but accepted the hobbit's statement.
As they approached the high table, the tang of wood smoke was replaced by the delicious smells of hot bread, ginger tea, apple cider, meat stew, steamed root vegetables, and—was that a berry pie he scented? Bilbo's stomach rumbled audibly, and, looking up, he could see Bain attempting to stifle a grin.
"I beg your pardon," Bilbo said. "We didn't stop for second breakfast nor for elevenses, and I believe my stomach begins to think my throat has been cut."
Dwalin laughed, and explained to King Bain and Prince Brand, "Hobbits would spend all day eating if they could. Our estimable Mr. Baggins is known in the Shire for the generosity of his table." He gave Bilbo a sly grin, remembering the Unexpected Party of so many years ago.
"Well, I do hope that this repast will satisfy your appetite for awhile, at least. My wife is anxious that you should enjoy your stay with us, and has been busily supervising the kitchens all morning." Bain sat down in the slightly more ornate chair at the center of the high table, as Prince Brand drew the chair next to the king's away from the board. Bilbo saw that the seat had been raised so that he would be able to sit normally instead of with his chin being almost level with his plate, as had happened more than once when he and the dwarves had been feted in Laketown before heading to the Mountain to complete their quest. A footstool had also been provided, which helped Bilbo preserve his dignity as he sat down, rather than having to scramble up the too tall chair.
Bilbo noted that all of the dwarves had been seated along the high table, and that Dwalin was already tucking in, while continuing his own conversation with Prince Brand.
King Bain, himself, poured out the steaming hot cider into the graceful pottery mug at Bilbo's place before pouring one of his own. "We pride ourselves on the quality of our cider. While we enjoy ale," he cast a teasing glance at Dwalin, "we are smart enough to not compete with the experts when it comes to brewing it."
Dwalin grinned back and raised his mug to Bain. "We each stick to our talents and blend them as appropriate. Speaking of that, how did the children like that nesting doll you created for them last Yule?"
Bilbo ate steadily as he listened to them discuss the challenges of carving a single piece of wood into a series of dolls that nested, one inside the other, and the reaction of the younglings of Dale to the new toy.
"It sounds a great success, Adar Rhîw," Dwalin concluded. "I assume that this year you have come up with a way to top it?"
"I believe so, but with little ears listening," Bain nodded towards the children who were running about the hall, "I'll wait to tell you about it until we go to my workshop. My councilors have despaired of me getting anything practical done since the beginning of fall. And I confess, I would rather be working with my tools and wood than dealing with matters of diplomacy and law. In a few more years, I plan to abdicate and leave the headaches to my son, " he smiled at Prince Brand, "and retire to my workshop full time."
"I beg your pardon, your majesty," Bilbo asked, "but what did Dwalin call you? Father Winter?"
"Aye, Master Baggins. Traditionally, it is one of the titles the King of Dale has been privileged to hold, and the responsibilities are my favourites of all the duties I must fulfill as king."
"Really? May I ask what they are, if that is not being rude? I am writing a book, you see, about the people I meet and the places I visit."
"Of course. The best part of it is being able to create a brand new toy that has never been seen before, to distribute to all of the children of Dale, and the next best part is handing them out here on Yule Night. You see, Adar Rhîw gives all the Yule gifts to my people, and brings in the first light of the new year."
Bilbo pondered that as he ate the delicious meal, and eagerly agreed to tour the king's workshop that afternoon.
* * * * *
The pending storm hit hard shortly after sunset, and Bilbo slept late and awoke to a frosty morning, with snow that would be knee deep on a Man. He was grateful to be able to stay indoors--at least until the streets had been cleared. After breakfast in the Gathering Hall, he sat by the roaring hearth with King Bain and, at his request, described his eleventy-first birthday party and how much the children of the Shire had loved the unique and magical toys that he'd ordered to give as presents.
"I'm glad to hear that they enjoyed them. It was very satisfying to create them, as well as a challenge to make each one different from the others," Bain said. He was interrupted by a ruckus near the main doors, and looked up, smoothing his beard over his chest with his calloused fingers.
"Grandpapa! Grandpapa!" A rosy-cheeked little girl bundled up in a heavy coat wearing a thick scarf and a furry hat on her head raced through the hall to the high table, pursued by a trio of older boys similarly dressed, all with snow clinging to them. "Tircil says you won't give me the new toy this year because I broke his sled. Tell him that's not true! It was an accident; I didn't hit Master Derwen's hitching post on purpose!" She scrambled up on Bain's lap and glared at the older ones, who were most definitely related to her, Bilbo realized, going by their appearances. "They said Adar Rhîw doesn't give presents to naughty children, but I'm not naughty. I'm not!"
Bilbo watched with interest as the three boys shuffled their feet in response to the questioning gaze the king turned upon them. The middle one bit his lip and then blurted out, "Breaking it might have been an accident but Beriel wasn't sorry!"
"I said I was sorry--!" Beriel wailed.
Brand strode up the hall, still garbed in his outdoor things, and held his arms out to the little girl. "Grandpapa has guests today, Beriel. Let us go else where to sort this out. Tircil, Bregan, and Durion, come along. Please excuse us, Master Baggins." The prince swept his youngest child from Bain's lap and left the hall through a side door, the boys trailing in his wake.
Bilbo grinned down into his mug of cider. "That sounds like the Thain's household over the last few years, save that they have three girls and youngest is a boy. Children seem to behave the same no matter where one lives."
Bain nodded, "Aye. Do your younglings look forward to Yule?"
"Oh, of course! Although they don't get their gifts given to them personally by Father Winter. Those are left in the night at the foot of the bed after the children are asleep." Bilbo enlarged the tale, cheerfully expounding on the way that the Hobbits celebrated the turn of the seasons from preparing for Foreyule all the way through the feasting and celebrating to when the last of the decorations were carefully packed away until the next year's celebration.
* * * * *
Bilbo discovered that the various toymakers in the city were pleased to have the diminutive visitor in their workshops, and many of them were eager to give him information for his book.
Minlarin paused in painting the face on a doll and asked, "Do your younglings like getting their gifts from Adar Rhîw?"
Bilbo sat on the workshop's window seat and kicked his bare feet against the carved wainscoting below the cushion. "Oh, yes, very much, but, of course they also get presents from their parents and siblings and aunts and uncles. I enjoy choosing just the right gift for them, and writing out the labels to let them know that Uncle Bilbo was thinking of them this year."
The old man looked at him in surprise. "Your children get their gifts from other people than just Adar Rhîw?"
"Of course," Bilbo said, puzzled by the question.
Minlarin shook his head. "I would think that would cause them to badger their relatives for things they especially want, and inspire jealousy should one relative give a more magnificent gift than the others could. Adar Rhîw hands out all of the gifts on Yule morning when the entire town gathers in the great hall."
Before Bilbo could respond to that, little Princess Beriel came charging through the door, bringing with her a flurry of snow. "Master Baggins! Grandpapa asks if you would please join him in his workshop and sends his apologies for taking you away from Master Minlarin." The words were said in a rush as if the five year old was trying to recite them from memory, and she took a deep breath after she blurted it out.
Minlarin looked down at the doll he was working on to hide his smile. "While I had hoped for Master Baggin's company for the afternoon, little princess, I accept Adar Rhîw's apology. Perhaps you would care to keep me company instead, and give me some advice on what color dress this doll should have?"
Beriel looked torn between escorting Bilbo back to her grandfather's home, and getting to help in dress the doll. Bilbo took pity on her and said, "I know how to get to the workshop, your highness," and bowed to her. "I'll tell him that you are doing a very important task for Master Minlarin."
As he straightened up, he found himself hugged tightly by the whirlwind child, who emphatically said, "Adar Rhîw better give you lots of presents this year 'cause you are so nice!"
Bilbo was still chuckling when he shed his heavy outer garments and shook the snow from his feet in the entry way of Bain's workshop. "Your granddaughter is going to be the light in the life of a lucky man one day," he told the King, whose red robe was liberally dusted with tiny chips of wood and sawdust.
"Assuming she hasn't run off on her own to have adventures," Bain agreed, dusting off his hands. "I thought you might like to see what I am planning for next year's Yule gift for the children, but you must keep it completely secret. The surprise is most of the fun, after all."
"On my honour, I will keep your secret safe," Bilbo promised. He looked around the workshop and noted again, the piles of somewhat lumpy green bags arranged along the far wall. "Forgive me, but may I ask what those are?"
Bain stood up and shook off the worst of the sawdust before going over and taking one of the sacks from the pile. He opened the heavy drawstring and showed Bilbo the dolls, blocks and the pair of toy swords that were inside of it. "These are the different gifts for each family in town. I keep them locked up in here, because the younglings would like nothing better than to sneak in and peek at their Yule bounty." He pulled a silver key that hung from a fine yet sturdy chain from his collar.
"I'm sure that there must be a penalty of some sort if they would manage to sneak into your workshop. I remember my mother telling me that she would send all of my presents back to my relatives if I peeked."
Bain laughed as he put the bag back into the pile and returned to his worktable. "I've only had to threaten to withhold toys once since I became Adar Rhîw, and the young man concerned became a model citizen after that."
"How long will it take to pass out your gifts?" Bilbo wanted to know as he followed the king.
"Only a few hours, since I present the sacks to each family instead of handing out each individual gift by name. Although there is a bit of ceremony in presenting the first of the new toys. I think you'll enjoy seeing that. Now, this is what I have in mind…" He picked up a thin wooden board with a piece of parchment clipped to it and showed it to Bilbo. Their discussion as to the possibilities of shape and color went on until teatime, but underneath, the hobbit was wondering what to do about giving the gifts that he’d brought for his host and the rest of the King's family, which he'd prepared in the Shire manner.
* * * * *
It was the day before Yule when Bilbo and Dwalin were sitting with Bain in the workshop again, each of them carefully polishing the last few of the new toys; making them ready to be presented to the children. The king tapped the last peg into the last piece and announced, "That's the last of them!" He reached for a polishing cloth to even out the finish of the wood and beamed cheerily at his companions.
"Just in time, too," observed Dwalin, putting the piece he held on the workbench. "Now you just need to hope there's no younglings born between now and tomorrow morning!"
Bilbo held up the round sphere of wood he held and enjoyed how the light of the lamps picked up the delicate engraved flowers that decorated it. "You'd never know that it came apart into a puzzle. I can't believe that you made each one unique!"
"That's the challenge of it," Bain said with satisfaction rubbing away the last of the finger marks on the finish of the square box he held. "I have a council meeting I must attend. If you two are finished, I'll lock the place up tight. I appreciate your assistance with these last few toys, Bilbo, Dwalin. And I have greatly enjoyed your company while I worked."
Bilbo had preceded Bain into the corridor and the king was fishing his silver key out when the queen, a motherly woman with snow-white hair and twinkling grey eyes, bustled up, carrying a green sack that looked like the others in the workshop.
"Don't lock up yet, dear," she said. "Mistress Tireniel left it to the very last minute again this year. One of these days her children won't have their presents because she didn't get them to you quickly enough!"
Bain chuckled again. "It wouldn't be Yule without one family being late, Annelinde." He took the sack from her and carried it into the workshop.
Bilbo stared after him for a long moment then looked up at Queen Annelinde as he suddenly realized that he had been misinterpreting the gift giving tradition of Dale. "So each family's parents provide the gifts for their children, but his majesty hands them out as Adar Rhîw?"
The plump, pretty queen laughed, "Of course! Elsewise, my devoted husband would never leave the workshop all year. Did you think he made them all himself?"
Bilbo nodded, embarrassed, and she patted him on the arm reassuringly.
"Did you notice the embroidery on the sack? Each family's bag is different and identifiable by the embroidery pattern on it," she explained as Bain returned to the hallway and locked the workshop door. "So we know which family to call forward to receive it tomorrow. When a couple marry here and create a new household instead of remaining in their parents' home, the first gift that they receive is a Yule sack for their own house, and the wife creates her own unique pattern for it. They get handed down via the eldest son, so each younger son and daughter who doesn’t marry an eldest son, get to have their own sack for their descendents."
"That's a lovely tradition. Thank you for explaining it to me," Bilbo bowed. "Would you be terribly offended if I take my tea in my room this afternoon? I have a special something that I need to work on before tomorrow."
"I'll have them send up your meal right away," the queen promised, and walked down the corridor, arm in arm with her husband, towards the gathering hall where the town council waited.
Bilbo stood for a moment longer in the corridor, thinking, and Dwalin nudged him.
"If you are going to be working on something for Yule, you'd best get started on it, Bilbo. Do you need my help or my tools?"
The elderly hobbit shook his head. "I think I can handle it myself, thank you. I wonder if they've got a goodly supply of parchment and ink?"
* * * * *
Yule morning arrived in a flurry of fresh snow, and laughing, cheering children who burst into the Gathering Hall as soon as the outer doors were opened. They were followed at a slightly more sedate pace by their parents and older relatives. The morning meal had been served in the guests' individual bedchambers, and word had been passed to meet the king and queen at the interior doors of the great hall by the start second hour.
The city bells rang out, their tones blending into a paean of joy, lifting the spirits even higher. Tables filled with hot drinks and finger food lined the sides of the hall, but piled up on the dais in front of the high table were dozens and dozens of dark green bags, the torchlight and lamplight catching the bits of silver and gold and green embroidery on each.
Bilbo sat on the dais with Dwalin and the royal family, dressed in his very best red brocade waistcoat with gold buttons, the hair on head and feet neatly combed. He kept patting his waistcoat pocket as if ensuring that something was there, eliciting odd looks from Dwalin, who forbore to comment as King Bain got to his feet.
The king raised his great mithril goblet to the citizens that packed the hall. "A Happy Yule to all!" he shouted, his rich voice belying his age. As the people responded in kind, he quaffed a mouthful of spiced wine and beamed at the children who, dressed in their very best, crowded the floor space before the dais. Bain's red velvet robes were trimmed in snow white fur with golden bells sewn to the cuffs and hem that jingled merrily with every movement he made. A broad dark blue leather belt encircled his waist, controlling the folds of the lush robe, and his cap was trimmed with holly and ivy and mistletoe.
Bilbo would never again think of Adar Rhîw ever again without seeing his new royal friend calling out names and bestowing sacks of gifts to each of the families gathered there. He could not stop smiling broadly, although he did wish that his dear Frodo could be there to share this Yule with him.
Finally, when the very last of the sacks had been given out and each adult and child had been greeted by the King and his lady wife, Bilbo cleared his throat, drawing Bain's attention.
"I will be going up to the Mountain later today to celebrate the rest of Yule with my friends, the dwarves, but I wished to share a Shire tradition with you, as you have all so generously shared your Yule with me." He smiled down at the carved wooden puzzle that he held, one shaped like a hexagon and decorated with a sleeping dragon around the sides of it. Carefully putting it on the seat of his chair as he got to his feet, he rounded the table and joined the king in the center of the dais, facing the hall.
"In the Shire, while gifts are given and received, and bells are rung, one thing we do is sing to celebrate the shortest day of the year and the returning of the light. I hope you will enjoy my offering for the day. I know I will always remember my Yule in Dale for the rest of my days, however long or short they may be."
He cleared his throat and drew himself up as he pulled a piece of folded parchment from his pocket and opened it. The hall went silent save for the crackle of the fire in the hearth as Bilbo Baggins of the Shire started to sing.
* * * * *
Rhîw 3002, Imladris
“That wasn’t too large a misunderstanding, Bilbo, compared to what it could have been. Were you able to distribute the gifts you brought with you after all?” Elrond asked, rising from his chair and poking up the fire for the elderly hobbit’s comfort.
“In the end, I did.” Bilbo folded his hands on his ample belly and nodded. “I hadn’t thought, you see, that King Bain would have grandchildren at home with him, so I hadn’t anything suitable for the four little ones in my pack. So, besides staying up most of the night writing the new Yule song for all of them, I wrote each of the children a little story such as we tell our faunts at bedtime.” He gazed into the fire and smiled, reminiscing. “It was worth staying up until dawn to get them done in time.”
Elrond returned to his chair and smiled back at his good friend. “Would you mind sharing the song you wrote with me? And, perhaps, in the Hall of Fire later tonight?”
Bilbo chuckled. “When I have I ever refused a chance to perform for my friends, dear Elrond?”
He sat up very straight in his chair, and took a deep breath before his thin, sweet voice filled the study with a hobbity melody.
Here comes old Adar Rhîw,
With sound of fife and drums;
With mistletoe about his brows,
So merrily he comes!
His arms are full of all good cheer,
His face with laughter glows,
He shines like any household fire
Amid the cruel snows.
Hurrah for Adar Rhîw!
Ring all the merry bells!
And bring the grandsires all around
To hear the tale he tells.*
A/N: The song is an adaptation of the first verse of the poem A Christmas Procession by Rose Terry Cooke (1827-1892). I only replaced “Father Christmas” with “Adar Rhîw”.