Deck the halls with boughs of holly
These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la, la la la la. Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la, la la la la. Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la, la la la, la la la. Troll the ancient Yuletide carol, Fa la la la la la, la la la la.
This story was inspired by a comment that Raksha the Demon made in a recent review of "A Web of Treason" on another site and is intended as a surprise seasonal gift to my readers.
I know nothing of how either "Yule" or "Mettarë" was celebrated,especially in Rohan, and hope readers will excuse me relying purely on my own imagination.I have endeavoured to include accurate details of actual Viking and Celtic traditions.
Dedicated to Raksha.
At the Rising of the Moon
"It looks magnificent!"Aragorn exclaimed. The Queen nodded her agreement, as did Faramir and Éowyn.
During the Hobbits' stay in Minas Tirith, they had expressed dismay that Gondor did not celebrate its Midwinter Festival, ''Mettarë, in the same manner as their festival, 'Yule', which was also held at the time of the Winter Solstice.Éowyn had also voiced near identical sentiments for Yule was also enthusiastically celebrated in Rohan.
Although Éowyn was very happy in Gondor, she missed her own people's cheerful Yuletide celebrations. The feasting, singing and dancing in the Golden Hall had been something she greatly enjoyed and had looked forward to each year. She found the Mettarë bonfires rather drab and lifeless by comparison.
Always eager to do everything he could to make his wife happy, Faramir had asked Aragorn if they could celebrate this winter's Solstice in the Rohirric manner. The King had not taken much persuasion to agree to hold a traditional Yule feast, followed by a ball in the Merethrond. He insisted only on it being a fairly informal affair, rather than a state banquet, of which the King considered there were already far to many of.
Having spent most of his life in the North, Aragorn privately agreed that theMettarë bonfires lacked the colour and cheer of the northern celebrations of the Winter Solstice.He hoped that in years to come, he would find a way to combine the various traditions from both parts of his kingdom.
Invitations had been sent out; not only to the lords and ladies of Gondor, but also to the merchants, the healers, the King's Personal Guard and even the higher ranked servants to attend together with their families.
"This is beautiful!" Arwen enthused, admiring the arrangements of holly, pine, laurel, yew and juniper decorating the vast room. Sprays of evergreens were hung around the hall, while elaborate displays of foliage adorned each table, the greenery crowned by glowing candles and festooned with scarlet ribbons. It was almost possible to imagine that the vast stone hall had been magically transformed into a forest.
"It is so pretty!" Elbeth exclaimed; running excitedly around, to make sure she did not miss anything and reaching up to touch the colourful ribbons that adorned the garlands.
The adults smiled at the excited little girl. Elbeth was Faramir's niece, the result of a brief liaison his late brother Boromir had enjoyed with a kitchen maid. After the death of her deranged mother, Faramir had taken her into his household, to raise alongside his own daughter, Elestelle.
The fire blazed brightly in the hearth and filled the room with the aromatic scents of pine cones and juniper berries, which had been added to the logs, the latter at Aragorn's insistence. Their scent was said to prevent colds and fevers, which thrived in crowded places during the winter.
"Is it to your liking?" the Queen asked Éowyn, "I hope this compares favourably with your Yuletide decorations at the Meduseld."
"It is very pretty, but.." Éowyn looked searchingly around the room obviously seeking something. She walked over to the table displays and studied them frowning. Looking up at the wall decorations her frown deepened into an expression of dismay. "Where is the mistletoe?" she asked.
"I do not think we have any," Aragorn said apologetically.
"Why do we need mistletoe? " Faramir asked, "We already have a magnificent display of evergreens. The holly and juniper have far more attractive berries."
"Men!" Éowyn exclaimed. "You have no sense of romance whatsoever!"
"I do!"Faramir protested indignantly, "Why, I wrote a poem for you only last week!"
"Yet, you question the need for mistletoe!" Éowyn retorted. "And you are even worse! "she accused Aragorn," I know that you spent years in Rohan, so you don't even have the excuse of claiming not to know why it is essential!"
"We will send the servants out for some," Arwen said soothingly, going in search of the housekeeper.
"What is mistletoe for?" Elbeth demanded, puzzled at the adults behaviour.
"It is primarily used for healing and has so many uses that it is known as 'allheal.'" Aragorn began, "The berries can be used to aid the heart and it is also valuable in the treatment of rheumatism and..."
"She does not need a lecture on treating diseases, Aragorn!" Éowyn said sharply. "The people of Rohan associate it with love and peace, Elbeth. If enemies met by chance in a forest under the mistletoe, they would lay down their weapons. We hang it up at Yuletide and kiss the people we love under it," she explained, "Most especially our spouses."
"What a charming custom!"Arwen exclaimed enthusiastically.
"That sounds silly. I'm glad I'm not married!" Elbeth asserted, with the supreme confidence of an eight year old. "It sounds more sensible to use it make sick people feel better!"
"In the North you kiss everyone you love, not only the one you are in love with," Aragorn added with a twinkle in his eye, "So if we find some and your aunt and uncle allow you to stay up tonight, you can expect lots of kisses!"
Elbeth wrinkled her nose in disgust. "You, Uncle Faramir and Aunt Éowyn may kiss me if you wish to, but nobody else!" she scowled. Then a sudden realisation dawned and she beamed delightedly. "Can I really come to the feast?" she asked, "Aunt Éowyn, Uncle Faramir, please let me come!" She looked at her Aunt with a pleading expression, which rivalled that of a hungry puppy.
Éowynlooked set to refuse, but on meeting her husband's and Aragorn's eyes, she said "You may stay for a little while, so long as you are a good girl. I shall have to leave early to feed Elestelle, so you can remain until then."
"Thank you, Aunt Éowyn, thank you Uncle Faramir! Thank you, Strider!"Elbeth exclaimed reaching up to kiss them in turn.
The King and the Lady of Rohan exchanged amused glances.
Just then, Arwen returned, accompanied by the flustered looking housekeeper.
"I'm sorry, my lord," the woman said, addressing the King "We did plan to include mistletoe in the displays. We thought the white berries would look pretty, but there was none to be found anywhere. We even asked the healers, but they had used all their supplies to make medicines and salves. With there being so much to do, preparing for the banquet, we decided that holly and juniper berries would suffice."
"Did you look everywhere?" Éowyn enquired. "There must be some in a city the size of Minas Tirith!"
"One of the grooms told me that he saw some in an apple orchard on the other side of the Pelenor, but when he asked for some, an old woman appeared and said she would only give to the King himself, if he came and cut it with a golden dagger at moonrise!" the housekeeper replied, "Begging your pardon, my lord, but that's her exact words, or so I was told. Naturally no heed was paid to such an impudent woman's request!"
"Was it old Gudrun?" Faramir enquired. "That sounds like the sort of remark she is famed for making."
"Yes, that's the old crone's name, quite crazy if you ask me, my lord!"
"Do not worry about it, Doreth," Arwen told her, "You are excused to return to your duties."
"Thank you, my lady." The housekeeper curtsied and hurried away.
Éowyn turned to Faramir; "That woman appears both from her name, and regard for the old traditions, to be one of my people," she remarked.
"I believe that she came from Rohan to settle here some thirty years ago or more," Faramir told her. "My father's Master of the Horses met her, when he went to Rohan to collect some colts promised to Gondor. They fell in love and were married soon afterwards. She has a reputation as something of an eccentric, and is quite well known as result. But what is to do with tradition that she refuses to let any save Aragorn cut the mistletoe?"
" It is believed by my people that certain rituals must be observed." Éowyn explained, "Otherwise, it is believed that the fertility of the land will suffer during the coming year. Obviously Gudrun believes the old stories and fears for her apple crop!"
"I will humour her by fetching the mistletoe myself!" Aragorn decided impulsively." I would enjoy a gallop over the fields. I have been indoors far too long."
"You should take Faramir with you,"Éowyn suggested, "He has been under my feet all morning and Arwen and I need to choose our dresses for tonight and find something for Elbeth to wear."
Elbeth pulled a face at the very thought.
"You can only come to the ball if you are properly dressed," Éowyn warned, "Of course, if you would rather go to bed early after a plain supper. I will not make you attend."
"Very well," the child conceded, "Just as long as it doesn't have frills on it!"
"Be sure not to return until you have some mistletoe!" Éowyn warned, turning her attention back to the men.
"And do not be late for the ball!" Arwen added.
"Your wish is my command, my love!" Aragorn replied, kissing her tenderly before making good his escape with his Steward.
"Do you think I was wise, sending them out together?"Éowyn said doubtfully, as soon as the men had left the room. "They always seem to get into some sort of trouble!"
"Whatever could happen to them, just collecting some mistletoe?" Arwen reassured her. "You worry too much. Now we need more candles along the side of the hall and on the tables. I will tell Doreth we wish to see the Merethrond ablaze with light!"
"I will fetch Eldarion and show him all the decorations before the guests arrive. I think he will be fascinated by so many lights and all the coloured ribbons," said Arwen. "I am growing to like this celebration of yours !"
"We need to send the servants out to find a suitable Yule log," said Eowyn, "Then we had better get ready. Come on, Elbeth, stop playing with those ribbons!"
"What is a Yule log?" asked Elbeth, as her aunt led her from the hall.
Éowyn sighed. It was going to be a very long afternoon.