Title: To Absent Friends
Theme: 2009 Yule Fic Exchange
Summary: Frodo works to maintain old traditions and create new ones when his relatives prevail upon him to leave Bag End for Yule. A fic about nothing, and everything.
Author’s Notes: Set in the winter of 1408/9 S.R. Ages of principal characters are given below in real years and Mannish equivalent
Frodo = 40 (25)
Merry = 26 (16½)
Pippin = 18 (11)
Sam = 28 (17)
To Absent Friends Continued
He was wandering a lovely, barren, windswept landscape when he heard it.
Not fair, he thought, not today, but already the sound of the waves had awakened in him that sweet heartache, the longing for he knew not what, and in spite of himself his footsteps turned westward. Maybe, this time, just this once, he’d get to see it…
He crested a rocky outcrop, and a sudden gust of wind blew his hair back. He tasted salt when he breathed in; tears sprang to his eyes and blew back so strongly that their track reached his ears. He ploughed on, against the wind, muttering imprecations against himself and his own persistence.
But though it roared in his ears as if he were standing in the surf itself, he could not find the Sea, no matter how far he walked.
Not fair, he thought again, sinking to the ground against the wall. He allowed himself a brief fit of the weeping that normally did not become a gentlehobbit. The wind howled.
Standing up again, he turned and saw that—quite out of nowhere, he was sure—there was now a small thatched cottage with a square door, right behind him. It had been painted once, but what colour he could no longer tell, and the door creaked in the wind. It did not look very hospitable, but it was shelter and he did not have the heart to continue westward just yet. He knocked on the door twice, waiting for an answer and half-expecting none. When nothing but the wind and the waves greeted his ears, he finally pushed the thing in and stepped inside.
After shaking the spray from his hair, he looked up and was startled to see a substantial fire casting a cheery glow on the entire room. Even more startling was the hobbit matron sitting next to it in a rocking chair and knitting as if there were nothing at all wrong in the world.
“I beg your pardon,” Frodo stammered.
She set her knitting down and looked up with a slightly irked expression on her face. “My, you’re rather far afield tonight, aren’t you?” She sighed. “This had better not be another one of my brother’s jokes…” She closed her eyes, as if in thought, and then picked up her knitting again. “Never mind that. What exactly are you doing here, Frodo Baggins?”
“The… the storm outside,” he muttered, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the door. “And what do you mean, ‘rather far afield’? I thought I was allowed to do as I pleased in dreams.”
“And who told you that, I wonder?” She tsked. “No matter; you’re here now, whether you ought to be or not.”
“But where is here, and why can’t I be—” An idea suddenly entered Frodo’s mind, one that at once filled him with hope and dread. He studied the hobbit’s face, trying to see if it fit with hazy memories and the passage of time…
“No, lad, I’m not your mother, bless her heart, and you couldn’t see her even if you asked nicely. You ought to be worried if you could see her, at your age. No,” she said, studying her work, “you’ve still got several years before it comes to that. Which brings us to the matter of why you are here, especially at this point… Let me look you in the eye, lad.”
She beckoned for him to come closer. He came to the fire and looked into her eyes. It was like falling into falling, faster than an arrow and his head was reeling, spinning—she blinked, and he fell heavily down upon his bottom. Who was she? “My—my lady…”
“Now, now, there’ll be none of that, not after you’ve already barged in here.” Strong hands pulled him back to standing. She shut her eyes again. “Hum,” she said. “Nothing that a cup of tea and a strong bit of advice won’t fix.” She unhooked the kettle from the hearth—had that been there before?—and poured some steaming water into a teapot. She pulled out a stool for Frodo; he sat down without thinking.
A warm teacup was pressed into his hand. He took a sip and was rather astonished to find that it was perfectly ordinary tea.
“Now. You have two full days ahead of you with family that love you—which is, I might add, considerably more than many of the people I know. So. No moping around, wishing, wondering, or dallying in what-ifs. You’re stuck with the ‘is,’ and your ‘is’ is pretty nice, so you’d best make the most of it. Do you understand?”
“I think so…”
“Good. You’d better take it to heart, lad, because—” She looked around her. “Let me show you something.” She thrust the knitting into his hands. It was marvellous—the strands were airy-thin, and the cables more intricate and fantastic than any he had ever seen before, but the web it made was strong and warm. “Do you know much about knitting?”
“Only a little.”
“Well, I should hope you know about this here.” She pointed to the place where it had been knotted off. “See, if this thread comes loose, the whole thing unravels. You, Frodo, have got to make sure you have it in you to last all the way to this point, because if you don’t—hey! That’s cheating!” She snatched the knitting back from him. He had only been trying to trace the string back…
“Anyhow,” the lady said, “you’d best make merry this Yule. Make yourself some memories for later, eh?”
“All right,” said Frodo.
“Good. Now please get out.”
Frodo stepped outside, and his dreams swiftly turned to other things until he had quite forgotten about the strange encounter. But throughout it all, he still heard the faint crash of the waves…
* * *
“Frodo!” A pair of small hands pushed at him. “Frodo! Frodo!”
“Hm?” He turned over in bed and slowly opened his eyes.
“It’s Yule! Glad Yule, Frodo!”
“Glad Y—” Frodo sat up in bed and rubbed at his eyes. The room was dark. “Pippin, what time is it?”
Pippin got off the bed and opened the shutters. “Oh, the sun’ll be up in an hour. When do you suppose we’ll start opening gifts?”
“Because that’s how they do things in Brandy Hall.”
“Then what are we going to do today?”
“That’s in the evening. What about today?”
“Today, Pip my lad, we are going to reform Merry. But first let’s get you back to your family.”
* * *
One of the benefits of living in Brandy Hall, Frodo mused, was the breakfast. Shirred eggs, three kinds of toast, stewed tomatoes, fish—when was the last time he’d had fish for breakfast, anyhow? And that was for only one of the two!
He left his relations to their own devices for most of the morning, deciding to take a walk in the winter air and scheme. All his plans were in order by eleven o’clock, and he sought out Merry at the start of that meal.
“I didn’t manage to ask you,” he said, without preamble. “How was my story last night?”
“Grisly,” said Merry. He smiled. “Everyone in the Hall now thinks it’s on account of your having left Buckland for Hobbiton.”
Frodo laughed. “More on account of my cracked uncle, I think. Bless my heart, I do wonder where the old fellow is now.”
“What about my tale? I daresay it sounded familiar.”
“Yes—I believe there’s a law against stealing someone else’s story, Merry.”
“Look, I wasn’t planning on going this year! What was I supposed to do?”
“Do my story justice, or at least ask me how it went twenty years after the fact! But—speaking of plans, have you decided what you’re doing tonight?”
“I was intending to go with the big group—Berilac and the lads.”
“Well, I had a bit of a plan of my own that I wouldn’t mind you giving ear to. See, Pippin may think a bit too highly of his own singing, but when you consider how small he is and how ridiculous he looks with that smug expression on his face—mothers eat that up like mushrooms. Only they can’t give him anything but food, so…”
“And again, my noble plan to have you help me out has backfired. I already spent half the morning with him—”
“Merry, I got him off your hands last night. And if you would just look at my plan objectively… We could compare our two approaches tomorrow morning if you’d like and see which one of us reaped more success.”
“Not fair. You’ve got the whole ‘I remember you from when you were a wee orphan lad’ thing going for you.”
“In which case it’d be most logical for you to join us—”
“Frodo, what if he embarrasses me?”
“He’ll be no more an embarrassment to you than you were to me at your age.” He leaned in. “Merry, let me let you in on a secret, one which Bilbo imparted to me after long years of hard-won wisdom. ‘The biggest part of growing up,’ he said, ‘is learning that being grown-up is not a farthing of what it’s cracked up to be.’ Pippin is giving you a wonderful excuse—an excuse to be as young and gay as you’d like, and if anyone worthless enough to ask you asks you about it, you just say it’s for him and not yourself. So, Merry, try Yule my way this year, and then all of next year be as much of those tween approximations of adulthood as you can, and tell me which one’s actually more fun.” He pressed something cold and wet into Merry’s hand. “I know you’ve been itching to get outdoors.”
Merry looked at his hand. In it was a perfectly round, perfectly formed snowball.
* * *
Pippin was on his way to elevenses with his family when he heard a strange whisper from a nearby hallway. Curious, he stopped to investigate—
—and, before he could so much as take a step into the hall, was struck in the shoulder by a snowball.
“Ouch!” he said. Quickly he brushed up the remnants of the snow for a return volley, but after he threw it he heard the snow ‘pffff’ in the distance—the unmistakeable sound of a miss. He rubbed at his shoulder. There was more in that snowball than snow…
Looking round, he saw what else had hit him—a walnut, which was slowly rolling away down the edge of the hall. Grumbling to himself about low tricks, Pippin picked it up, and was astonished to find that it had already been cracked open and tied back shut. He bit at the string to tear it off, then opened the walnut shell and found a small slip of paper, tightly rolled, reading as follows:
If Merry has made you the recipient of this present (as I suspect he has), you will find a pail of fresh snow in your room with which to retaliate after luncheon. Please avoid his broken arm, though.
* * *
Merry was leaving the kitchen (to ‘check on dinner,’ as he liked to put it) when it happened.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” he gasped, as what felt like an entire barrel of snow slid unceremoniously down the back of his shirt and into the seat of his breeches. He whirled around as a pail clanged to the floor and a pair of feet scampered off behind a large kettle.
“PIPPIN!” he bellowed, following in hot pursuit. His cousin led him only a short chase, as Merry knew the ins and outs of this particular kitchen as he knew his foot-hair. Shortly thereafter Pippin was cowering before Merry like a whipped cur.
“I’m… I’m terribly sorry, Merry, really I am…”
“I am this close,” said Merry, holding his finger and thumb a grain apart, “to putting an end to your miserable life.”
Pippin shrank into a sack of flour. “But the pail was already there, and after you hit me…”
Merry stopped in his tracks. “Frodo put you up to this, didn’t he?”
Merry smiled like a cat and held out his hand to help Pippin up. “Are we getting even?”
Pippin took it, and stood up, terror falling from him like an ill-fitting cloak. “I think we are.”
* * *
Frodo came back to his room just before dinner to put on his finery, but something seemed a little off. His mouth worked as he realised what it was—his bed was made! What was more, there seemed to be a slumbering form inside it, though the shape was vague enough that he could not tell which of his relations had decided to take a nap in his bed.
Tiptoeing closer, he snatched up the corner of the quilt and flung it off…
To discover that his visitor was not made of flesh and blood but snow! “Merry…” he said in a warning voice.
His bed erupted in laughter. Frodo kicked underneath it and came into contact with something soft and warm. “Both of you, out,” he said, for his bed had distinctly had two voices. While listening to their grumbling he scooped into the snowhobbit on his bed and readied himself.
Merry and Pippin were thanked for their troubles by a handful of snow to the face.
“Frodo!” cried Merry, wiping the snow off his face, “That was a work of art!”
“I cleared off half an acre to get that much snow!” said Pippin.
“Well, it’s ruined now,” said Frodo, and he lifted the sheet from his bed so that the mauled snowhobbit rolled off and splattered itself on the floor, powdering his cousin’s feet in the process.
“Why, thank you, Frodo,” said Merry, bending down with a grin, “for supplying us with all the weaponry!”
With a cry Frodo dove underneath the bed, narrowly ducking several small missiles and almost colliding with the chamber-pot. Quickly he reached out the other side and wrapped his hands around Pippin’s ankles.
“Merry! Help! Help! He’s going to pull me under! Aaaaaah!” By this final shocked cry Frodo had to assume that Merry had turned on his cousin and just rubbed an excessive quantity of snow into his hair.
Just then they all three heard a pounding at the door. Immediately Frodo’s hands released Pippin and shot back under the bed.
“I’m opening the door!”
It was Esmeralda’s voice. She did not sound pleased. Frodo heard the window open and a scraping of snow as Merry and Pippin struggled to dispose of the evidence.
The door swung open. “Merry! I said no outdoors!”
“We’re not outdoors!” said Pippin.
“First the damp spot in the hallway, then the kitchens, now this—what have you two been up to?”
“Three, to be precise,” said Frodo, popping his head out from under the bed.
“Oh, for pity’s sake,” said Esmeralda. She turned and walked away.
Frodo crawled out and stood up. “Clean up my room, both of you—and hang my bedclothes up to dry! The straw could get mouldy.”
Pippin turned around. “Why do we have to do all the work? You started it.”
“I, Peregrin Took,” said Frodo, “am going to get both your sorry hides out of trouble.” He hurried out of his room to find Esmeralda.
Catching up to her, he touched her shoulder to get her attention. “I accept full responsibility for any tomfoolery you may have just witnessed.”
“Merry wrote to me complaining about not being able to go outside in the snow. I thought…”
“You did not think of how dangerous a snow fight could become indoors. Frodo, we have people living here past their century, and not everyone is fit as your uncle was at that age!”
Frodo was silent for a minute, chastened. “If it’s any consolation, I did explicitly tell Pippin to avoid the broken arm.”
“Frodo, he’s eighteen. He’s not going to be able to avoid anything, whether he wills it or not. You should know that.”
“Well, they’ve stopped now, and they’re cleaning things up. If you have to replace the mattress I’ll pay for it.”
Esmeralda stopped again and sighed. “For all your being forty, Frodo, sometimes I wonder how much of you is still the lad that liked to raid for mushrooms.”
Frodo gave her a bright, wistful smile. “He’s still alive and well, that’s for sure—somewhere. I try to keep him quiet most of the time—or to make amends when I can’t.”
“Well, Merry seems a good deal happier—which is what I suspect your intention was, tomfoolery or no—so I guess I’ll be lenient this time. Keep his mind off that arm of his and that’ll be amends enough.”
Frodo bowed. “The Lady Esmeralda is most gracious.”
“Oh, go on with you!”
* * *
Gaffer Gamgee tried to pay no heed to how his son was festooning Bag End like he owned the place. It was, after all, Mr. Frodo’s express orders, and Yule wasn’t a right day to go about complaining.
Even worse was how he was making the Baggins wassail like he owned the place! Not that he didn’t have his reservations on how it was done after Mr. Frodo showed him, oh no! What kind of a ninnyhammer would waste perfectly good ale (he knew; he had sampled it himself) on baking apples—apples that were going into the drink nohow?
Tutting to himself, and keeping half an eye on the door to make sure Sam wasn’t peeping in and a-learning the process, he opened up Mr. Bilbo’s queer box and carefully counted out the number of each type of… well, he wasn’t sure what; he wasn’t prepared to call anything like that food. There was a nut that had to be grated into the ale, and a dried-up foreign-looking root that had to be ground, and sticks and berries that had to go in whole; and he’d already been lectured—at his age!—on getting all the amounts just so.
The door creaked. The Gaffer turned around with an admonitory finger.
“Just getting you the punch bowl, Dad,” said Sam, carrying in an enormous golden monstrosity.
The Gaffer nodded. “Set that thing on the table, Sam,” he said. “And no peeking!”
* * *
Dinner was everything Pippin had said and more. Saradoc’s voice shook not once during the welcoming speech, and Merry started the Yule Fire with such dexterity that Frodo almost thought he had cheated and doused the fireplace with brandy—until he realised that the flames were entirely the wrong colour for spirits.
Best of all, Merry spoke to him and told him that he was obviously needed if Frodo and Pippin were wassailing together, since neither of them knew the Hall’s wassail as well as he.
So, once Frodo managed to convince Paladin Took that he would keep an eagle’s eye on Pippin’s constitution, the three met outside Frodo’s door at precisely seven o’clock. Pippin had somehow gotten it into his head that part of wassailing—even if you were indoors the whole time—was dressing up in cloak, scarf, and mittens; and arrived thus attired.
“What?” he said, when Merry tried to explain to him that these accoutrements were in fact completely impractical. “I’m supposed to look cute so you two can get drunk on everyone else’s coin, right?”
“Pippin!” Merry and Frodo spoke as one.
“We are all three of us supposed to have fun,” Frodo added. “You would be surprised at how independent ‘fun’ is of beer, or brandy, or anything else.”
“Right,” said Pippin, subdued.
But Merry did not try to get him to change after that.
Part of Merry’s extensive knowledge of the wassail was which apartments to go to first because their owners never baked enough. Frodo himself also remembered from years past a particular wassail that was not too strong, and not so honeyed that Pippin would drink it quickly. After confirming its location with Merry, they decided to head there first.
He quickly realised his error in bringing Pippin along. That sweet high voice coming out of such a little body, combined with the comical facial expressions that could only come from an inflated ego, meant that people loved to listen to him, and thus would not invite them inside for a biscuit and a cup until they were satisfied. True, Merry and Frodo got much more out of each stop than they ever had prior, but the wait in between was so long!
There were other problems as well. While in the Master’s sitting room Merry and Pippin got into a vehement argument over the placement of a particular verse in a particular song, an argument which quickly spread to the Master himself and his wife, and rapidly deteriorated from there.
But the problems only seemed to accent the joy of the evening. After long years of staying put and hosting wassail, Frodo had forgotten how much variety could come in a single drink! Not that everyone served wassail, though—there was also negus, and eggnog, and syllabub. Frodo’s personal favourite of the evening, however, was a little something Saradoc and Esmeralda had thought up—a sort of sherry-based drink served on snow that they called a ‘cobbler’ on account of its having been cobbled together on a whim.
When they were walking from the Master’s apartment to the kitchen (the cooks never permitted themselves to be outdone), Merry said, “Your accent’s returning.”
“What?” said Frodo.
“You’re starting to sound like a native Bucklander again.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“You do sound different from yesterday, Frodo,” said Pippin.
“Well, maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by all these infernal Brandybucks! Bucklandish was never my native tongue; it was learned out of inconvenient necessity.”
“As was your getting along with me, I suppose,” said Merry.
“I wish I had an accent,” said Pippin.
“Nonsense!” said Frodo, in a perfect imitation of the imperious tones of Thain Ferumbras. “Do you take so little pride in your heritage, Peregrin Took, that you cannot recognise your glorious speech for what it is?”
“Merry,” said Pippin, clutching his shoulder, “Frodo’s scaring me.”
Merry laughed. “Haven’t you ever heard Frodo’s impressions before? He’s even done Gandalf’s voice on occasion, and Gandalf himself said that it was excellent.”
“Well, of course he does the voices for storytelling, but that—that was—”
“Uncanny?” Frodo laughed. “And that’s why I like my own speech best of all. As do you, I suspect. See, we none of us have accents, when we’re by ourselves. I still think I sound perfectly normal, but Merry thinks…”
“That you’ve consciously reverted back to Westfarthing and that’s unfair.”
Frodo nodded. “And Merry doesn’t sound ridiculous to himself at all.”
“I don’t know…” said Pippin. “If I were Merry I’d sound ridiculous to myself no matter what accent I had!” He swiftly took a step back to avoid Merry’s retaliating swat.
“But where do these dialects come from, anyhow?” said Merry after a few more steps.
“Family and friends, I suppose,” said Frodo. “You heard how I started trying to match your own speech without even realising it. It’s just the same as with songs, really—someone changes it somewhere, it passes down the years, and soon you have two beautifully different versions of the same thing!”
“Of course,” said Merry, “changing the words to the songs is easier when your head’s addled.”
“Then you just have to make up more!” said Pippin.
“Say, among the three of us, I think we could come up with a pretty good list of Yule songs that no one else would be able to match, since we’re all from different families,” said Frodo.
“Or at least verses,” Pippin put in. “We could even add some of our own.”
“And I know from last year that the Bolgers have an entirely different set,” said Merry. “If we want to write these down, I could pen him a letter after Yule and we’ll get even more.”
“But what would we do with it?”
“Bind it into a book,” said Frodo. “They’d make lovely gifts for next Yule.”
“Well,” said Merry, with hardly any regret, “there go all my fine plans for tomorrow!”
* * *
The night was wearing on, but spirits in Bag End were still lively. Over half of Hobbiton and Bywater had stopped by so far, but no one had sat in Mr. Frodo’s chair, per the Gaffer’s injunction.
Ham and Hal both had decided to come home for Yule this year, bringing along their families, and Daisy had managed to drag her husband and daughter along, too. Truth be told, it was much easier for all of them to be together in Bag End than it ever had at Bagshot Row, on account of there being more room. The Cottons had dropped in, too, and did not show any signs of leaving soon. Sam did not mind.
During a lull in the visits, the Gaffer cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, “Mr. Frodo’s not here, and he said as I was to do his duties, so—To absent friends!”
“To absent friends,” the room echoed. To Mr. Frodo, and Mr. Bilbo, Sam added, before raising his own glass.
There was a knock at the door. “I’ll get it!” cried Marigold, sliding from her seat. After a minute she came back, not with any wassailers but a weary-looking hobbit with a posthobbit’s cap.
“I know this is going to sound right daft,” said the hobbit, “but I have here a letter for a Mr. Frodo Baggins that couldn’t wait till after Yule.”
“I hate to set your troubles to naught, sir, but Mr. Frodo ain’t here,” said the Gaffer. “He’s spending Yule with his kin in Buckland.”
The posthobbit’s mouth fell open. “Well, of all the worst luck in the world!”
“Steady a moment,” said Farmer Cotton. “The Post’s shut down. What are you doing here and not with your own kin for Yule?”
“Well, the fellow that delivered it paid handsome, and I didn’t have no other plans. My wife and daughters got taken by the fever this past year, and home just don’t feel right without them. So, I figured, may as well make someone else’s Yule just a little brighter. But now I see I’ve gotten it all wrong.”
“Well, the least we can do is give you something to raise your spirits,” said Tom, ladling the posthobbit a measure of the wassail. “Do you have a place to sleep tonight?”
“I’ll fix up one of the spare rooms,” said Sam. “It’s what Mr. Frodo would want,” he added, seeing his father’s dismayed expression. “Can I see the letter?”
The posthobbit handed it to him. Sam looked at the address and raised his eyebrows. “I’ll just put this on Mr. Frodo’s desk, sir.” He walked out through the back hallway and spread his mouth into a grand smile. Mr. Bilbo was still alive—and writing! That was all that Sam needed to make this Yule glad!
When he came back in after setting up one of the rooms in back, he had an idea. “Gaffer,” he said, taking his father aside, “that there posthobbit’s in need of a good deal more Yuletide cheer. And I got to thinking—Mr. Frodo’s lost his family, too. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if we let Mr….”
“Halfpenny’s his name.”
“—Halfpenny have Mr. Frodo’s chair for the night, so all the rest of the folks as come by can wassail for him.”
“I don’t rightly know,” said the Gaffer. “All this gentrying and presiding stuff makes my head reel worse than a pint of brandy. It don’t seem proper…”
“But it is Yule, and there’s none as ought to be cheerless on Yule. I’ll tell Mr. Frodo about it when he comes back, and I’m sure if he don’t like it he’ll do something.”
“That he won’t. Mr. Frodo is a gentlehobbit, but he’s too soft on you. Gentlehobbits can do as they like, but I won’t be having you putting on no airs, Samwise.”
“Of course not, Dad.”
“Then again, it is Yule…” The Gaffer sighed. “All right, Sam, do as you think right—but don’t expect this to keep up past tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t dare,” said Sam.
So Mr. Halfpenny was installed in the master’s chair, and had a good deal of wassail, and a good deal of food, and a good deal of songs, and a good deal more cheer than he had expected to get when he had set out with the letter two days prior.
“Who do you suppose that letter was from?” Tom Cotton asked Sam.
“I don’t rightly know,” he replied.
* * *
Frodo’s sheets were still damp, so Merry offered the use of his room for the night when at last, after what felt like hours on hours of singing, and eating, and drinking, and talking, and generally making merry, they retired. Frodo readily accepted, and he and Merry whispered far into the new year, about old memories and new ones and the changes in both of their lives. When at last Merry began snoring softly, Frodo repeated to himself the old toast, spoken many times throughout the evening, and wondered how Bilbo was ringing in the new year, wherever he was. Then he rolled onto his side and shut his eyes. It had been a good Yule so far, and tomorrow there would be presents, and the song-book, and who knew what else?
* * *
“If you don’t mind me asking, sir,” said Sam, “what did the letter say?”
“Eh?” said Frodo.
“Mr. Bilbo’s letter. I recognised the hand.”
Frodo smiled. Of course—Bilbo had been dear to Sam, too. “Not much. Just that he is well, and hopes that I have been well, and best wishes for Yule and the new year. He didn’t tell me where he was, either—the sly old codger! He’s probably afraid I’ll up and follow him!”
“Would you, Master?”
“If he asked me—which he won’t. And since he won’t, why should I leave, when I have so much to hold me here?”
“That’s good. I shouldn’t like you to leave.”
“Thank you. I heard about your idea with the posthobbit, by the way.”
“I hope it wasn’t crossing no lines—”
“Bless you, no! It was very clever, and very considerate.” He paused. “You have a good heart, Sam.” Then, without quite knowing why, he added, “Take good care of it for me, will you?”
Author’s Notes: The tradition of Christmas ghost stories was abundant in Victorian England and actually served as the grounds for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Frodo’s particular ghost story is adapted from a New England Tale.
All of the foods described have been used in traditional English Christmas cooking. Recipes for any of the wassail foods and drinks not provided below are available upon request.
This recipe yields a pleasing, moist, gingerbread-like cake and is adapted from a traditional Yorkshire recipe for “pepper cakes” given to carolers. In my test batch I used light brown sugar for the dark and had no problems. If you wish to make less (as the cakes are quite rich), you may quarter the recipe, use a 9x5 loaf pan, and bake the cakes for only an hour.
325 ° F
1 ½ lbs. flour (about 5 ½ cups) 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 C butter 2 C molasses
1 C dark brown sugar 4 eggs
2 tsp. ground cloves 1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground ginger 4 tbsp. milk
Preheat oven to 325° and grease and flour a 9 x 13 in. baking pan.
Cut butter into flour until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Mix in sugar and spices. Add molasses and eggs, beating until smooth. Dissolve baking powder into milk, then add to batter.
Pour into baking pan, spread out evenly, and bake for 1¾ hours. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out to let cool. Store in an airtight tin a few days to develop flavors. Cut into slices shortly before eating.
Bag End’s Famed Wassail
This recipe is adapted from one for the seasonal drink ‘Lamb’s Wool.’ It differs from regular wassail punch in that it uses more spices (in both quantity and variety) and in that the apples roasted for it are actually scooped out and included in each serving (the wooly apple flesh giving it its real-world name). The recipe given serves four, and was presumably reduced (not by me) from its original ‘quantity’ proportions by a sensible cook. Both Mr. Bagginses are pleased to note that the original recipe is now impossible to duplicate as the ale they based the drink on was only brewed in Hobbiton.
4 eating apples ½ tsp. ground ginger
4 pints ale 3 allspice berries
6 cloves 1 cinnamon stick, broken
1 tsp. ground nutmeg Brown sugar to taste
Preheat oven to 400 ° F. Place apples in a baking pan with a little ale and cook for 30 minutes or until the apple flesh is wooly in texture.
Meanwhile, heat ale, spices, and sugar in a large saucepan over low heat until very hot, but do not allow to boil. Strain into a large serving bowl. Scoop apple pulp from apples with a spoon, discarding core and pips, and pile on the hot ale. Serve hot with a scoop of apple flesh in each glass; apple flesh should be eaten with a spoon.