Recipient's name: kayleelupin
Title: Tidings of Comfort and Joy
Request: I would like a story with Gandalf celebrating Yule/Midwinter/whatever for the first time - either his first time with a certain people, or his first time at all. It doesn't matter who he's with - Elves, Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, even other Ainur - or which of his many names he's using, though I'd prefer the name be accurate to the people he's staying with, unless there's reason for it not to be. He could even be telling the story in flashback to someone else. It's up to you.
Summary: Olórin hears about Yule for the first time from Eärendil and gives him a gift which changes both their lives.
The great ship was in its last stages of being made ready; Olórin had come down from the gardens of Lorien to see it, curious about this new undertaking, the biggest Aulë's workshops had dealt with since the creation of the Sun and Moon.
Off to the side, Eärendil was sitting on a long bench, arms folded, staring out at the preparations soberly. His wife was nowhere to be seen, and the Silmaril - Olórin could sense it - was not yet on display, and rested in a leather pouch at Eärendil's side.
Olórin, who tended to walk about not clad in a bodily form, quickly composed himself a body, light and lithe, formed after the shape of the Eldar, with long flowing white hair. He glanced about at the Elves nearby to be sure that he hadn't forgotten anything, and added raiment to the form, soft shifting grey robes that flowed gently as he moved.
He wished to speak to the half-elf, for truly nothing like him had been seen before in Valinor. There had been the case of Lúthien, and of her child Dior, but Mandos had dealt with both those cases, and neither of them had ever walked upon the soil of the Blessed Land. Olórin was always curious, and particularly so about the Race of Men, who he felt harboured great potential.
As he hesitated, Eärendil turned slightly, noticing him, and gestured in a way that clearly asked him to come over. So Olórin did, arranging his limbs in a seated position on the bench, hoping he was doing it correctly. "Who do I have the privilege of meeting this time?" Eärendil asked almost immediately.
Olórin laughed. "It is I who have the privilege, Star of the Morning," he said. "I am Olórin, and just now I serve Lord Irmo in the gardens of Lorien. But I come on my own errand, for I am curious and wished to speak to one who has walked the shores of Middle-earth, and one who knows the taste of mortality and age. For the Race of Men is to me and to us all a mystery beyond our fathoming, and I could not resist the chance to understand a little more, if I may."
Eärendil bowed his head, sunlight glinting off his golden hair, and seemed to be deep in thought for a moment. "To be fair," he said at last, "I know only a little of the Race of Men, for I have always lived for the greater part amongst Elves, and so did my father Tuor. But there are some traditions I have adopted, and the day is right, so I will tell you of one of them."
He took a deep breath and sat up straight, turning to face Olórin. "My mother always said that before the Moon and the Sun were created, seasons came and went at Yavanna's bidding, and the course of the years was different than it is now. Time flowed as it willed then, and was not measured in the same way. But, my father told me, when the Race of Men awoke, our eyes turned toward the light of the rising Sun, and followed her into the West from whence she came and went. And we began to notice seasons, the passing of years. Some nights were so long it was thought they would last forever and we would be back in the hopeless darkness again, for unlike the Elves we do not love the stars without the Sun."
Eärendil paused for breath and took a moment to glance up at Arien, high overhead in the pale midwinter sky. They were in the northlands of Valinor, not far from Aulë's workshop, and though the day was warm for the time of year, the Sun was still veiled by cloud at times, and would come in to set earlier this day than on any other in the year.
"Every year on this day, we mark the longest night with a celebration of life, in the midst of the cold and darkness," Eärendil continued, bringing his eyes back down to meet Olórin's. A smile began to light up his face. "We light fires, we decorate trees with gleaming baubles and candles, we feast for all we are worth! But the most important part of the holiday is the exchange of gifts. We give those we hold dear presents on that day, and cherish them when we receive them." Eärendil laughed a little, caught in a memory. "When I first knew that I loved Elwing, it was late autumn of our eighteenth year, and I was seized with the desire to impress her, to win her over. So I built her a boat called the Swan - a tiny craft it was, more fit for sailing the river than the great Sea. And on Yuletide, I presented it to her with every flourish I could manage, only to be greeted with wariness and suspicion. And that was how I learned that my wife does not love ships!" He grinned at Olórin's worried expression.
"She did not like your gift?" Olórin said.
"No," Eärendil said. "But I learned better from that. The next year I gave her a bracelet set with sapphires that I had spent all year trading for, up and down the coastline, and then paid one of our jewelsmiths to make. She was much more impressed with that." The mirth faded from his face. "I wonder what became of it. Likely lost when the Feanorians sacked the town." Eärendil frowned, a dark mood seeming to descend upon him suddenly.
Olórin felt overwhelmed by the sudden change in mood, but gently asked, "It is not the bracelet that you are thinking of now, is it?"
"My sons came into my mind," Eärendil said, and turned his body away from Olórin, moving out of the relaxed position he had been sitting in. Olórin watched his movements with something akin to a professional interest in the study of body language, and then compassion came to the fore.
"Your sons..." Olórin mused. "You think they too were lost?"
"Undoubtedly they are dead and in the halls of Mandos, slaughtered by those butchers!" Eärendil said, voice somewhat less than calm, but quiet, not raised. Olórin bethought himself carefully, then called out with his mind to Mandos, asking of the whereabouts of the sons of Eärendil and Elwing. Swift and sure the answer came, and Olórin reached out a hand, placing it on Eärendil's shoulder.
"Your sons live," he said quietly.
Eärendil turned to face Olórin so fast he could almost hear the wind whistling through his hair. Startled, he snatched his hand back. "Are you sure?" Eärendil asked, voice somewhat louder than it had been. Over by the ship, a few faces turned toward the sound of his voice.
"Mandos has not seen them in his Halls," Olórin said. "I know nothing more, but they live and dwell yet in Middle-earth."
The look on Eärendil's face was nothing less than astonished joy; he laughed heartily, but even as he did, tears fell from his eyes. "On this Yule, you have given me such a gift as shall never be forgotten!" he said. "Thank you."
"It was so little," Olórin said, voice thoughtful.
"It was everything," Eärendil answered, holding out his hand, tears still streaming down his face. One of them splashed on Olórin's hand as he clasped Eärendil's, and he felt the emotion in it burn bright.
When they parted, he did not go back to Irmo and the land of Lorien, but instead ventured to the uttermost West, and sought out Nienna in her halls upon the walls of the world.
"Why do you weep?" he asked. A faint smile crossed her face.
"Stay with me a while, and find out!" she said, and he followed her into the darkness that no Man nor Elf has seen.