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Author name: Dreamflower
The small armchair and footstool in which Sir Peregrin Took, former Thain of the Shire, sat, were dwarfed by the immense stone fireplace, as was the other armchair across from Pippin. While Pippin was wide awake, its occupant, his cousin Meriadoc Brandybuck, was gently snoring. An open book lay across Merry's chest, and the coverlet across his knees had half slipped off, leaving Merry's feet exposed.
Pippin supposed that at one hundred and two, his cousin could be excused for napping after a hearty luncheon, but it was most inconvenient when Pippin wished to talk. After all, it was nearly Yule, and there were plans to make.
What to do? Pippin ran a hand through his silvery-white curls, and then looked at his toes. Surprisingly, at ninety-eight, he still had a few strands of Tookish chestnut winding through the otherwise snowy-white foot-hair. But not a speck of it atop his head. He wondered why...no, he was distracting himself from the question at hand.
The truth was, in Gondor the turning of the year was not until spring. And the Gondorian celebrations for the longest night were all too solemn to even be worthy of being called celebrations in his humble opinion.
Instead, Mettarë and Yestarë were considered days of solemn reflection: spend the first day in remembering everything one had done wrong in the past year and spend the second day making resolutions to do better in the following year. A noble undertaking to be sure, but scarcely what Pippin would think of as a holiday.
No, a real Yule called for greenery, and a roaring Yule log, and lots of singing and dancing and feasting and presents. The King and Queen confessed they missed the Northern customs for honouring the turning of the Year, when the darkness began to give way to ever-lengthening days. They celebrated Yule when they brought their court to Annúminas, but they had made no attempt to override the customs of Gondor in this matter. After all, they'd had their way with moving the New Year to Spring.
But now he and Merry were making their home here, and they wanted a real Yule. Time to make their feelings known. Pippin rarely took advantage of Aragorn's tendency to indulge his two old friends, but in this case he was willing to take advantage a-plenty.
Perhaps they could possibly combine the Gondorian and Shirish customs. Well, he'd reflected enough on what he wanted. Now he needed someone who could actually make plans. He reached out his leg and gave a light kick to one of Merry's feet.
Merry just barely stirred; Pippin kicked a bit harder.
"Oi! Pip, what is it?" said Merry crossly.
"Wake up, Merry, I want to talk to you. I need your clever mind."
"Ha! When did you ever not?" Merry stretched and sat forward, catching the book before it slid out of his lap.
"Come now, cousin! This is important!"
Merry slid his spectacles down from the top of his head down to his nose, and gazed at Pippin. "So, what is on your mind now?" he asked suspiciously. "I'm far too old for larder raids and scrumping. We both are."
Pippin grinned. "Yule."
"Ah! Yes, it will soon be upon us, won't it? But they don't really celebrate it here, do they?"
"Exactly, my dear Meriadoc."
Merry leaned back and steepled his fingers and pursed his lips. Pippin said nothing; his cousin was thinking right now and unlikely to fall back to sleep. But Pippin was in danger of that himself, when Merry spoke out.
"Culas! We'll pick his mind! He knows which Gondorian customs we can use and he knows our Shire customs as well."
Pippin nodded, his thoughts briefly sad as he thought of his old friend Menelcar, who had been Aragorn's Court Bard from the beginning of his reign. Good old Menelcar had passed on several years before, his place now taken by his great-nephew Culas, who had become a great minstrel in his own right. Culas would be the perfect person to help them plan a celebration.
"Do we want to consult the King and Queen, or make it a surprise?" Pippin asked.
Merry grinned. "We could consult the Queen and surprise good old Strider, don't you think?"
Pippin grinned back. "That sounds like a plan to me."
The next morning the two hobbits made their way to the quarters of the Court Bard. Culas seemed very happy to see them, and made them welcome with wine and cakes. The two were seated on a pair of cushioned footstools, and Culas sat down with them after pouring them goblets of Belfalas Red.
Pippin looked up at the minstrel. He was no longer the skinny twelve-year-old apprentice Pippin had met at his great-uncle's side in Annúminas. Indeed, he was now the same age as Menelcar had been when Pippin first met the wandering minstrel roaming through the Shire when he was only a tween himself. Culas bore a great resemblance to his uncle; his eyes had the same mischievous twinkle, and his ginger hair was beginning to sport some grey in the same places as Menelcar. He had laugh lines a-plenty. But he lacked the weathered look that Menelcar had gained through years of wandering Middle-earth. Culas had grown up in the Court of the High King and had never known the hardships of life on the road. Pippin missed his old friend, but Menelcar had gone to his rest many years ago...
Culas had waited until the hobbits had consumed at least one of the cakes before asking them, "To what do I owe the honour of this visit?"
"We need your help," said Merry. "We'd like to bring a bit of the Shire to Gondor with the holidays coming."
For a brief second, Culas looked confused, but then he grinned. "Ah! A Yule celebration! I have not been part of one since last the Court went to Annuminas; a good five years, I think. Here in Gondor the longest night is no longer the eve of a new year and in the City it is not really celebrated much anymore, though I have heard things are different in the Southern part of the Kingdom. They still make a lot of it in Dol Amroth though."
Pippin shrugged. "Even when it was celebrated here, it was not much of a celebration, from what Boromir told us. Fasting and thinking about all the wrong things you'd done in the past. Seemed sort of a gloomy way to pass the holiday, although he did say there was a feast on the second day."
"The people of Minas Tirith were solemn and serious in the days of the Stewards," said Culas. "I do know that my uncle always celebrated Mettarë and Yestarë in the old way, even after the King's return, though he also observed the one in Spring as well. He thought the return of the light was a good time to reflect on life and the new beginning of the year, while the celebration in Víressë was more to celebrate a New Age rather than just the year." He grinned. "But he was fond of all the wonderful songs and carols that the Shirefolk sang to celebrate Mid-winter and taught me many of them."
Merry and Pippin nodded. Pippin recalled the year that he and Merry and Sam had copied out as many Shire songs as they could think of to send to Menelcar in celebration of their friend's tenth anniversary as the Court Bard. Nearly half of them were seasonal songs.
"You know," Culas said, "here in the White City we have few songs to celebrate Mid-winter but there were some traditional verses that were spoken on Mettarë and on Yestarë. In my family, the lists of our transgressions were given to the fire before we retired for the night and as they burned Uncle Menelcar led us in reciting the Plea for Forgiveness. And on Mettarë, before the fast was broken, we recited a Pledge for the coming year." He sighed. "My own children and grandchildren no longer know this tradition, sadly."
Merry and Pippin looked at one another. "Family traditions should not be lost," sighed Merry.
Pippin nodded emphatically. "Most certainly not! I think it's a time to perhaps revive the traditions of Minas Anor as well as bringing in some of the Shire's celebrations as well."
"Do you wish me to approach the King about this?" asked Culas, knowing that Elessar would never deny his hobbit friends anything unless it was harmful to them.
"Actually," grinned Merry, "we thought we'd surprise good old Strider. We thought it might be fun to plan this little celebration with Her Grace the Queen."
Culas just nodded. He had lost his ability to be shocked at the hobbits' informality years ago. "I will make arrangements for us to see her sometime soon; today if it is possible. I will send word to you when I know when that will be. I assume you will be able to hold the secret yourselves?"
"Oh," said Pippin airily with a wave of his hand. "Merry and I are conspirators of old. Why if it had not been for our ability to keep a secret, Frodo and Sam would never have made it out of the Shire."
The talk turned to what sorts of traditions the hobbits wanted to observe. Was a Yule log necessary? What about gifts? Culas and Pippin talked for quite a while about which songs and dances should be a part of the celebrations.
It was scarcely an hour after leaving Culas, as the elderly hobbits were taking their luncheon in their quarters, that the invitation to tea with the Queen arrived.
Merry watched in amusement at the care Pippin was taking in his preparations: snowy curls on head and feet carefully brushed, and his cousin's best weskit and jacket shrugged on. Not that he had not taken equal care; but then that was his usual way. But Pippin seldom fussed with his appearance this much even when they attended Court with the King. This, however, was the Queen. Even through Pippin's very happy marriage to Diamond, he had never quite recovered from his shy and unspoken crush on Arwen Undómiel. He'd never really been able to hide it from his cousins, but they'd never teased him about it when he was a tween. He suspected that Arwen had known as well. Her smile for the youngest member of the Company had seemed to Merry to always be rather special.
Pippin fiddled with his cravat for the third time, so Merry went over and straightened it out for him. "Now you look just fine, cousin. Let's go before we are late."
"Hmph! We are only a few corridors away, after all," said Pippin.
"True," Merry agreed. "But we don't move as quickly as we once did. Wait--where are my spectacles?"
"On top of your head, silly." Pippin reached over and took them off Merry's head and settled them on his cousin's nose.
Merry took them off, gave them a rub with his pocket handkerchief put them back on, and the two went to the door of their quarters.
Arwen's lady in waiting, Lady Haleth, ushered the hobbit's into the Queen's parlour. Culas and his apprentice, a lanky sixteen-year-old by the name of Valan, were already there, as were the Queen's older daughter Elliniel, and her granddaughter Artanis
Tea was poured out, and cakes and biscuits were passed around, and there was at first much talk of family. The hobbits passed on the news from their latest letters from the Shire, and there was rejoicing at the word that Elliniel's husband Elemir would be bringing his parents back to the City when he returned. Faramir had passed many of his Stewardly duties over to his older son Elboron; the Prince and Princess seldom left Ithilien these days--Éowyn had broken a hip a few years back, and she no longer could ride as she once had.
Crown Prince Eldarion and his wife were still on a diplomatic mission to Dale, but their son Halbarad was on his way back to Gondor, and might arrive any day now.
After the food was consumed, however, the conversation was turned to the subject at hand: how best to create a celebration that would combine the traditions of the Shire with the old, nearly lost, traditions of Minas Anor. They had, after all, just under a month to prepare.
Valan was given parchment, ink and pen, and set to taking notes...
Aragorn wakened to the smell of crisp air and evergreens, and his wife's absence from the bed. He sat up, and heard the faint sound of song in the passageway. Not bothering to ring for his body servant, he threw on some clothes and went from the Royal Bedroom to the Royal Sitting room. There he saw Arwen serenely awaiting him by the hearth, as the morning staff went about their business. “We are about to have callers, my lord,” she said demurely, although her eyes twinkled with mischief.
“Before breakfast?” he said in astonishment.
She laughed. “You sound like a hobbit,” she replied.
The singing grew louder, and then there was a rapping on the door. Arwen gestured for one of the servants to open the door.
There stood a crowd of royal grandchildren, and the children of the various families who made their home in the Citadel, from nobles to servants. At the forefront of all the young ones were two old hobbits. All arms were filled with fragrant evergreens, pine and mistletoe, spruce and boxwood, laurel and cedar, and all were singing:
Cedar, spruce and fir and pine,
The greening of the hall!
Out in the frost or snow we trek
The greening of the hall!
Soon the Royal Apartment was swarming with little ones, placing branches on the window sills, the shelves and the mantelpiece. Aragorn watched in bemusement for a moment, and then chuckled as he saw his young great-grandson, Artanis' six-year-old son Perhael trying to pull a chair over to drape some laurel upon a rather high shelf. In two long strides, his grandfather picked him up and held him where he could reach the shelf. He set the lad down with a kiss on top of his head and a light pat on his bottom, and turned to face the grins of his two oldest “guests”.
Merry and Pippin gazed up at him with their most innocent expressions. Pippin arched an eyebrow, and said “So, how did you like our surprise, Strider?”
He shook his head and laughed. “I suppose that you had a co-conspirator or two?” He cast a glance at the Queen, who was surrounded by children, and turned at his regard to wink at him. “Do you have anymore surprises in mind?”
Just then the city bells began to ring, and not to mark the hour.
“Culas said that used to be the pattern the bells rang, to mark the beginning of observing Mettarë,” said Merry.
Well, thought Aragorn, that answers that question. Not only my wife and grandchildren, but my Court Bard as well, He looked down at the two hobbits, who to his expert eye looked just a bit anxious.
“Strider,” said Pippin. “You aren't truly angry with us, are you?”
“You rascals. Of course I am not truly angry. But I have to say, it is seldom that anyone can surprise me. So, you have decided we should renew observing the old winter solstice celebrations—will that include a fast today?”
The hobbits looked rueful. “We came to a bit of a compromise on that. The Queen and Culas agreed that the fast will not be compulsory. Those who wish to fast may, and everyone else may have bread and water today.”
“Ah, a most practical compromise.”
Pippin pulled himself up as straight as he could. “My liege, in the spirit of the day, I would like to ask your forgiveness for keeping secrets from you. And also, I am sorry I can no longer carry out my duties as a Tower Guard.”
Aragorn was touched by the old hobbit's serious mien. “Sir Peregrin, sometimes secrets are a necessary part of a surprise. As for your duties, while you are no longer able to stand guard as you once did, you can do many of the duties that my older captains undertake, such as teaching the guardsmen. I am sure that the youngest cadets would be honoured to learn the history of the Ring War direct from the mouth of the Ernil i Pheriannath.” Pippin looked gratified at this suggestion.
“So how is the rest of the day to be marked, in this new-old tradition you have come up with?”
“Well,” replied Merry, “soon enough we shall take the children down to the feast hall of Merethrond, where they will help with the greening there. Then the rest of the day will be spent quietly making lists of what you regret in the past year—you recall Boromir telling us all about that on the Quest?”
“Indeed, I do. In fact, I also recall it from the years I spent here when I was much younger.”
“Oh yes!” exclaimed Pippin. “Back when you used to go by Thorongil!”
“Then,” Merry continued, “This evening, all will gather there. We will have songs and a Yule Log. That will be followed by more singing and maybe dancing. Then Culas will recite the verse for First Night; but everyone will use the Yule Log to burn their lists! ”
“Now, now!” called Arwen in her clear voice. “Lady Haleth will pass out parchment for everyone to write their lists on. Then you must follow Sir Meriadoc and Sir Peregrin down to Merethrond and put the greenery out there.”
The hobbits led their parade of children out into the corridor once more, and the singing broke out again.
Aragorn took a moment after the door closed to draw Arwen into his embrace. “This was well done, my love,” he said.
“Thank you, Estel, but most of the credit belongs to Merry and Pippin.”
The ringing of the bells had signified a day of celebration, and so there was no Court held that day. It meant that the King and Queen had the rare chance to enjoy a quiet morning in one another's company without many interruptions. Around noon, Prince Elemir arrived with his parents.
Faramir had much white in his dark hair, and Éowyn had more silver than gold. The once straight Shieldmaiden now leaned heavily upon a walking stick, and upon her son's arm, but her bearing was as proud as ever.
Faramir was pleased to learn of the plans to renew the old celebrations, although with new twists. Éowyn was very pleased to find that the solstice would be observered as well. They stayed awhile to catch up on family, and then left to rest from their journey before the evening's celebration.
Aragorn spent some time alone, composing his own list; as King he often had to do things he would rather have not, and there was solace in writing them down in order to put them behind them. But none of his public regrets weighed upon him as much as the time he did not have to spend upon his family. It was inevitable, but it did not mean he did not regret it.
The evening bells rang at sunset, and the King and Queen led their court into Merethrond. The large hall had been transformed with greenery and candles. A table at the side was laden with pitchers of water and platters of loaves of bread. The King and Arwen had chosen to observe the fast, but they were glad that there would be sustenance for others.
They led their Court into the Hall to the strains of a stately pavane, and then seated themselves in the large carven chairs set aside for them.
As soon as all were seated, the large double doors that led to the Courtyard of the White Tree were thrown open and Merry and Pippin and a number of children led in four stout servants carrying the large Yule Log.
Pippin's voice, still high and clear in spite of his age led them in singing:
Light the Yule log, blazing cheer,
The day is short; the night is long.
The singers continued, their voices joined by Culas and his minstrels, and by those members of the Court who had heard it in Anuminnas. It was brought in and laid in the hearth. The hobbits had agreed that as Merry would definitely be the eldest person in attendance (save the Queen, who had laughingly declined the honour) he would light the log.
It was a well seasoned log, and kindling had already been laid. The Yule Log was carefully placed, and Merry lit it with a taper, provided by Culas, who had come to stand at his elbow. The kindling quickly caught, and as the log took a few moments to catch, the crowd was led in such Shire seasonal songs as “It is the Turning of the Days” and “The Buckland Carol”. By the time they had finished the latter song, the Yule Log had begun to burn.
At Culas' direction, those musicians with instruments began to play a lively and poplular circle dance. There were several more jolly dances before the Court Bard signaled for a much slower and solemn dance, and as the sets were paced, the candles were slowly extinguished, so that soon the great room was lit only by the light of the blazing log upon the hearth.
Culas stepped forward. “In the latter days of the Steward, this was recited upon the darkest night as a way to leave behind all the ill will or sorrow of the previous year. In homes across the White City, families spoke this:
For each grief I hath given thee, forgive.
For every lie I spoke to thee, forgive.
Let mine offenses with the old year pass,
There was a brief silence. Some of the older members of the Court could recall this tradition of their youth, and some of them were brought to tears.
“Those who wish to do so, may now put last year's sorrows to the flames.”
A slow procession was led by the King and Queen, who each tossed a list into the fire. Each person did so quietly.
When all had done so, Culas spoke out loudly: “Today was a day of reflection! Tomorrow will be a day of rejoicing!”
The party broke up, and folks made their way back to their own places, some in silence, and some discussing this new (to them) celebration. Aragorn found himself listening to some of those conversations. He heard one little girl asking her grandmother: “Won't it be confusing to have two Yestares and two Metares?”
A very good question, thought Aragorn.
Once more the White City woke to the sound of holiday bells. Word of the big celebrations up at the Citadel had leaked out. Apparently the whole thing was started by the old Ernil i Pheriannath and his cousin Sir Merry Wraithsbane. On every corner musicians were playing new dances and minstrels were singing new songs. Open air taverns were selling food and drink, and children were playing in the streets.
Up in the Citadel, a great breakfast feast had been prepared. At each place lay a laurel wreath. The members of the Court milled about the feast hall, awaiting the appearance of the Royal Household. Soon they appeared: the King and Queen, the Steward Prince Faramir and Lady Éowyn, the Princess Elleniel and her husband Lord Elemir, the Steward's younger son, and the Steward's older son Prince Elboron and his wife Firiel of Lossarnach, and those of the grandchildren who were present in Minas Anor. The two elderly hobbits were also among the group who would sit at the High Table. Once the High Table was seated, the other courtiers and their families found their places. Each person at the High Table, including the Royal Couple, took up the laurel wreath at their places, and put it upon their heads.
Then Culas explained that this day was one of both rejoicing at the ending of darkness and the growing light, and also of renewal and a time to start anew with new habits and new determination.
“Here is the pledge for today:
With the old year, let old habits be past.
Now let the feast begin!”
The sounds of hungry people enjoying such things as frumenty, stuffed eggs, rashers of bacon, sausages, freshly baked breads, fruits and other treats after a long night and a fast the day before could be heard.
Culas found his place among the other minstrels and musicians (all of whom had broken their fast already with the servants of the kitchens) and joined them in playing his lute. They continued playing instruments until it was clear that the meal was winding down. He looked up at Pippin, who was leaning back in his seat playing with a bit of cheese, and made a small gesture. He smiled back at Culas, whispered a word in Merry's ear, and stepped down to join his friend.
The two of them began to sing together a song often sung on Second Yule throughout the Shire:
The longest night has passed;
Day by day the world grows lighter,
Darkness now has lost its power.
Day by day the world grows lighter,
We'll celebrate this bright New Year,
Day by day the world grows lighter,
Day by day the world grows lighter,
After the breakfast had ended, everyone was dismissed, but the King and Queen decided to process down through the City and join in with the celebrations of the common people. Faramir and Éowyn stayed in the Citadel, and after some consideration (for truly, they'd have enjoyed it immensely) so did Merry and Pippin. Instead they kept company the Steward and his Lady, enjoying many memories of their friendship over the years.
That night, there was another feast, and more music and dancing in the Citadel. Pippin played his fiddle for the first time since they had left the Shire, and sang with Culas several more times, as they taught the songs to those who had come.
...How grand it feels to click your heels,
The holly green, the ivy green,
Pippin was beginning to run out of breath. It had been years since he had sung for so long. He didn't even look when a goblet was put into his hand and he took a sip of Belfalas White. Then he said, “Thanks, Merry! I needed that.”
“I have to say,” said a familiar voice that was not Merry's, “I have not had so pleasant a surprise in a long time, my friend.”
He looked up at Aragorn, and smiled a smile that reminded the King of the young tween he had grown so fond of during the Quest.
“I would say,” he added, “that I might proclaim this an annual event, save for one thing.”
Pippin looked dismayed. “What's that, sire?” slipping into formality in his surprise.
“It might be confusing to have two New Year's celebrations so close together.”
Pippin's eyes grew round and wide. “Oh. I hadn't thought of that!”
Then he felt Merry's familiar hand upon his shoulder. His cousin was looking up at the King with a most impudent smile. “There's a simple solution, Strider! Just call the winter celebration 'Yule'”. That's what it is, after all.”
Aragorn laughed long and loud, drawing the attention of all who had not left yet. Finally he said, “A most elegant solution, Meriadoc Brandybuck!”
Author's End Notes: It's my tradition to write new “carols” for the Shire every year. “Day by Day” is my new contribution for this year. The other songs or portions of songs were written by me in previous years.
In addition, I also wrote the two Gondorian verses. Both the “Plea for Mettarë” and the “Yestarë Pledge” were made up specifically for this story, and are very loosely based on some of the liturgy of my church.
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