“Boss--come quick! We have that extra help you were asking for!”
“Where did they find more elves?”
“Well, only one says he is an elf, although he certainly doesn’t look like any of ours. He must be well over six feet tall, and with long hair. But they brought a dwarf, also, and three men, although one of them appears to be pretty old. And then there are four more--I thought they were elves, but when I called them that I thought they’d never stop laughing. Except for the one with the backpack and the skillet--he just started blushing and shaking his head.”
“One has a backpack and skillet? Whatever for?”
“How would I know, Boss? Said something about just being prepared.”
“Is he a Boy Scout or something?”
“I’m not certain. You going to come check them out or something?”
“I’d best do so.”
“Here. Shh, there they are.” They peered in through the open door into the room where presents were wrapped. There were the nine individuals, eight of them gathered about the table on which the elves usually worked, the last crouched near the fireplace, although what precisely he was doing wasn’t clear. However, tantalizing smells were filling the room.
“That’s the one who says he’s an elf,” whispered the aide, “the one with the bow and quiver.”
“That’s quite a bow. Do we have anyone who wrote they want a bow for Christmas?”
“Oh, he says it’s not a present--says it’s his, just in case an orc shows up.”
“What’s an orc?”
“I’m not certain.”
“Wait--are those men wearing swords?”
“Yes, and the taller one was pretty definite no one was to touch his but him.”
“And what do we do with these, Aragorn?” asked one of the smaller individuals, one with dark curls about his pale, intent face.
“I think we’re supposed to put them in the boxes and then wrap them in that colored paper.”
“But how do we keep the paper wrapped about the packages? With that ribbon?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before, Frodo,” commented a second one of the smaller ones as he rubbed his fingers over the curling ribbon. “It’s not quite cloth, you know. I wonder what these ridges are for?”
The one with the auburn hair was playing with the sealing tape. “This is odd--look, Strider--it’s clear! And----” He pulled on it, and it was sticking to his fingers, then adhering itself to the sleeve of his jacket. “Ooh, it’s strange! Frodo! Come here--help me--it’s got me all caught up!”
The one with the dark hair was plainly becoming anxious. “Are you saying it’s sticky, Pippin?”
“Sticky? I’ll say! Help! I can’t get my hands free!”
The one crouching by the fireplace stood up, and he proved to have a skillet in his hands, and had apparently been cooking sausages in it when the one with the reddish hair called out. “No proper hob!” he muttered. “And what am I to do with this? Stay still, Mr. Pippin, and I’ll see if I can figure out how to unstick you. No, Master, you leave it alone--you know as how sticky things bother you ever since we was in Cirith Ungol. Mr. Boromir--you think as you can hold him still so’s to keep it from gettin’ spread any further? See what happened when he started gettin’ upset and spinnin’ about? It’s wrapped right around him! Too bad I didn’t wear Sting!”
A bearded figure came forward from behind the tall one addressed as Aragorn. “Fool of a Took!” he sighed. “Stand still, won’t you?”
“Here--hold still for but a second,” said the dwarf, lifting a great axe and bringing it down sharply against the table near the tape dispenser. “There--now at least you won’t get any more wrapped around you!”
Santa’s aide straightened in shock and dismay. “They’ll destroy the wrapping room!”
Santa sighed. “I swear,” he grumbled as he started into the room, “this is the last time I’ll ever complain to Námo when the flu runs through the North Pole about how I need more help this time of year. Olórin, do you want to explain all this?”
“I’ve begged your pardon, Nicholas my friend. I’m afraid I don’t know quite how to make it up to you. Námo told me that you needed help, and this is the first time we’ve been able to have the eight of them together again in more yeni than I can count. We just hoped that this would be a nice change for all of them. They do love to help others, you see. It’s only that all this is completely new to them--none of them understands wrapping paper or cellophane tape.”
Santa looked over at where the one called Aragorn was helping the stocky cook cut and pull away the tape from the one they’d addressed as Pippin. “Well, if you think you can keep that one under control, we do need help.” He looked at the pale, dark-haired one. “As for him--he appears perhaps a bit--twitchy?”
“Well, if you’d been through what he’s been through you’d probably feel a bit anxious as well. I mean, he had quite a time of it--had to go through Mordor and all. Was all caught up in Shelob’s web, you see.”
“Shelob? Female spider? Oh--Ungoliant’s get! No wonder! Poor thing!”
“You’re getting the idea. Now, if you have anyone who can show them what to do who is calm and can accept these have no experience with cutters and tape and all, they ought to do well. They do truly understand presents and the spirit of giving. All they want to do is to help as they can and know the joy of the season. You’ll be giving all of them a good deal of pleasure, and they will do everything they can to see the job through. Frodo may need a bit to come to terms with tape, but he has greater endurance than you can imagine, and he’s very artistic by nature.”
Gandalf proved right, and indeed once he realized how the tape worked Frodo was more than making up for that wasted by the one called Pippin, finding he didn’t use any more than needed to be used. “And why does this ribbon have these ridges to it?” Merry asked.
“When you pull the back side of it across a blade, it will curl,” Santa’s aide informed him, demonstrating against the blade of a pair of scissors.
Gimli shook his head. “That’s a bit time consuming, don’t you think?”
“Shall we see what it would do against the blade of your axe?” Merry suggested.
“What’s this?” Pippin was asking one of Santa’s elves.
“It’s a tree stand.”
“A tree stand? What’s it for?”
“To keep your tree standing upright once you’ve brought it home and are trying to stand it up inside your home.”
“But why would you bring a tree inside your home? That sounds odd!”
“It’s a traditional decoration for a home at Christmas time.” The elf found a Christmas card that showed such a thing, and in moments Pippin was showing it to Merry, distracting him from his experimentation with the ribbon and Gimli’s axe.
“And I bet we could use that stand so Gimli wouldn’t have to stay still holding his axe steady while you run the ribbon over it,” Pippin explained.
“Christmas? That’s what you call Yule, is it?” Merry asked as they screwed down the bolts for the stand to hold the axe upright.
“And you bring these gifts to children all over the world?” Frodo asked Santa.
“Yes--in my sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer.”
“Do you keep rooms filled with mathoms so as to have enough gifts?”
“Well, we make the toys here throughout the year, my elves and I do; then we box them up and wrap them. Although I’ll be honest that we also tend to get a fair amount at shopping malls and the like. Children nowadays like to see brand names they’re accustomed to.” A look at the blank expression on the Ringbearer’s face was enough to show he had no idea what that last meant.
“And you have your sleigh pulled by flying deer?” asked Merry. “I never dreamed there might be deer large enough to pull sleighs. We always used Dobbin the few times we needed a sleigh when I was a child.”
“Reindeer are rather large, and are from the area around Lapland--although these are specially bred.”
“Like the Mearas, then?” Sam asked as he efficiently put ribbon about a box and tied a neat bow.
“Very much like that.”
“What’s this?” asked Legolas as he held up a silver horn.
The aide answered, “It’s a bugle. You blow through the mouthpiece to play music with it.”
“That sounds as if it would be right for you, Boromir,” Pippin commented as he tried a length of ribbon across the blade of the axe.
“You think so, little one?” asked the man of Gondor.
“Try it,” invited Santa.
“Go ahead, my friend,” suggested Aragorn.
Boromir grinned at him. “As the King commands.” So saying he lifted it to his lips and blew, bringing out a sharp blat!
Frodo covered his ears with a look of mingled amusement and distress on his face. “I doubt it’s supposed to sound quite like that,” he suggested.
Holding it out and looking at it suspiciously, Boromir agreed, “No, I suppose not. Perhaps if I try again.” Carefully he held it to his mouth, and blew this time more gently, getting a breathy sound. Again he tried, finally managing to get a clear note. As the rest gave him more encouraging looks and Frodo lowered his hands he gave a short phrase, and all smiled, Frodo and Aragorn’s eyes filled with nostalgia.
“It speaks to me, small brother, of the day I accepted the Winged Crown.”
Frodo nodded, then looked inquiringly at the other man. “Did you see that, Boromir?”
As he lowered the bugle, the former Captain General of Gondor nodded. “Ah, yes, Ringbearer--I was allowed to see that. I was so proud of all of you--all of you and my brother.”
Santa saw the quiet glow that appeared to surround Aragorn and Frodo, and that was beginning to be reflected from the others as well. For a moment the gifts were forgotten as all simply enjoyed being together. The Elf had set one hand on the shoulder of the dwarf, who responded automatically by glancing up briefly with a familiar smile before looking back to the Steward’s son. Then he was rubbing at one eye and saying gruffly, “Perhaps it’s time to return to our labors--that is why we came, isn’t it?”
They worked for some time. Boromir cleaned the mouthpiece of the bugle, set it into a box, wrapped it carefully, and passed it to Frodo, who added the ribbon. Pippin, who’d been experimenting with a bow maker, gave him quite a large one of rose and gold velvet that his older cousin quickly had fastened to the box, handing the completed package to one of Santa’s elves who’d come to aid them.
Now and then Sam would pause to cook something over the fire on the hearth and share it with the rest, and at one point Merry and Pippin began singing a Yule carol, one in which Frodo and Sam joined, followed by Aragorn, who shrugged as he gave Boromir a smiling glance.
“You sing of beer and ale in your songs?” asked Santa’s aide, almost scandalized.
“And what’s the difference between that and wassailing?” the Saint of Christmas asked. “Different peoples, different usages, but the same intent--to give thanks for the return of the Light.”
Frodo looked up quickly, so wise a look in his clear gaze. “Yes--the return of the Light,” he murmured. “Ever we strive for the return of the Light.”
Sam and Aragorn moved close to him as Pippin and Merry did the same with Boromir. Santa smiled as he saw the dynamics expressed and as once again Light gathered about the Ringbearer and King--and Sam Gamgee. Olórin stood somewhat aside from the rest, watching with a clear pride as again Elf and Dwarf stood together as brothers, sharing a smile of satisfaction with one another. Boromir raised a song of Mettarë, and Aragorn joined in, as did Sam. Then Frodo began a song of sheer joy and praise such as was sung upon Tol Eressëa in honor of the Giver of star and sunlight, and the whole of the workshops of the North Pole paused to listen, entranced. When at last he was done, Santa wasn’t surprised to find the Polar Bear was at his side, his own head cocked to one side as if he’d been storing every glorious note.
Those elves of the North Pole who’d so far avoided the effects of influenza had gathered about the room. They looked at one another, and without any discussion, they raised their own song.
All is calm, all is bright...
Frodo Baggins continued to glow softly, cradling to himself the last gift he’d been prepared to wrap, a snow globe in which a woman in a blue gown and a bearded Man knelt together over a rough cot of some sort that cradled an infant, sheep and other farm animals crowded about them. When at last the song was finished, Merry came forward to look into his cousin’s face, the two of them sharing a smile. Merry leaned forward and gently took the snow globe, shaking it and watching the flakes within swirl and fall. “Look, Sam,” he said a bit huskily, “this looks almost like your Bill, doesn’t it?”
Not a donkey in this globe, but a pony. Sam took the globe and looked into it, a smile of memories and peace on his face. “Yes, I member, Merry. My old Bill--how long he stayed with me after we come back home again, like Stybba did with you.”
Pippin nodded. “The Man almost looks like you, Aragorn--you with the Lady Arwen and with little Eldarion, although your housekeeper would have raised a fit had you had the creatures from the stable come into the Citadel, you know.” All laughed. He pulled out a handkerchief and carefully wiped the glass free of fingerprints before settling the globe into the box that lay nearby.
“I’ll wrap this one,” offered Legolas.
At last they finished and prepared to leave. “I don’t know what we would have done without you,” Santa sighed, smiling. “The next few days we’ll be busy packing the sleigh and seeing the harnesses polished. But at least we are now ready for Christmas Eve. I wish the nine of you a good and blessed Yule indeed.” So saying, he kissed each in turn, and saw them to the door. There an elf stood waiting with a great covered tray of silver, while another held a bag of soft but strong purple velvet. The bag was pressed into Gandalf’s hands and the tray into those of Sam, who was relieved of his skillet by Legolas. Soon they were back in the Halls, their last glimpse of the North Pole being of the Polar Bear nuzzling up against Santa Claus as the bearded saint familiarly rubbed his ears.
Well, children, did you enjoy yourselves? they were greeted.
“Oh, yes, we did indeed,” Frodo assured the Lord of Mandos.
And what is it you have brought back with you?
Sam settled the tray on a nearby table and lifted the cover away. Under it lay ten steaming mugs.
Ah, hot chocolate--with marshmallows and with candy canes to stir it--and glorious fudge and divinity! Nicholas ever remembers my favorites! Step up, children, and help yourselves. Did I see caramel apples there, too? And a cheese ball rolled in ground walnuts and butter crackers? Sheer paradise! And what is it that you carry, Olórin?
“Nicholas pressed it on me as we left. Shall I see what it contains?” At Námo’s nod, the former Wizard delved into its depths, bringing out wrapped boxes for all. None was surprised when the gift for Boromir proved to contain the bugle, which he lifted up in wonder to find it was his own. Pippin received a silver flute to match, and soon the two of them were to one side playing upon their instruments.
But it was to the last box, presented to Lord Námo himself, they all looked, for it also seemed familiar. At last he had it open, and inside it lay the snow globe. He lifted it out and shook it gently, all watching with delight as the flakes within settled gently about the figures of Father, Mother, and Child.
Boromir blew upon the horn a familiar cadence, and Námo looked on him with gentle love. Child, he asked with affection, have you ever been welcomed home by the call of silver trumpets?
Yes, fluff, but I hope enjoyable fluff. Reference is made in part to "The Father Christmas Letters" with which Tolkien beguiled his children when young, and to favorite lines in the movie, as well as a tiny bit of fun added at the expense of our beloved ones.
A joyous St. Nicholas's Day to all!