1. Deck the halls with boughs of holly
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 joyously 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 stilted and lifeless by comparison.
Always eager to try 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 needed much persuasion to agree to hold a traditional Yule feast in the Merethrond, followed by a ball. He insisted only that the festivities lack unnecessary pomp and affectation, he already had to endure too much of both throughout the year.
Having spent most of his life in the North, Aragorn privately agreed that the Mettarë 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 own Guard and even the higher ranked servants to attend together with their families, along with several northern Dúnedain visiting from Arnor. Legolas and Gimli had been called to join the merriment, and were expected later in the evening
"This is beautiful!" Arwen enthused, admiring the arrangements of holly, pine, laurel, yew and juniper decorating the vast chamber. 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 all so pretty!" Elbeth cried; running excitedly around, to make sure she did not miss anything. She reached up to touch the colourful ribbons that adorned the garlands.
The adults smiled at the high-spirited little girl. Elbeth was Faramir's niece, the result of a brief affair between his brother Boromir and a kitchen maid who was now dead as well. Faramir had discovered the child two years ago and taken her into his household to raise alongside his own daughter, Estelien.
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.
"Are the decorations to your liking?" the Queen asked Éowyn, "I hope they compare 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 fair display of evergreens. The holly and juniper have far more attractive berries."
"Men! You lack any sense of romance!" Éowyn exclaimed.
"Not so!" Faramir protested indignantly, "I know the Lay of Lúthien in three tongues. And 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 do not even have the excuse of not knowing why it is essential!"
"We will send the servants out for some mistletoe," Arwen said soothingly. She went in search of the housekeeper.
"What is mistletoe for?" Elbeth demanded, puzzled at her elders' 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. "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 husbands, and husbands their wives."
"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. "'Tis better to use it to help make sick people well!"
"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, lord, and Lady Arwen, 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.
Éowyn looked set to refuse, but on meeting her husband's and Aragorn's eyes, relented "You may stay for a little while, so long as you are a good girl. I shall have to leave early to feed Estelien, so you can remain until then."
"Thank you, Aunt Éowyn, thank you Uncle Faramir, thank you, my lord!" 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 have to suffice."
"Did you look everywhere?" Éowyn enquired. "There must be some mistletoe in a city the size of Minas Tirith; where so many keep gardens."
"One of the grooms told me that he spied some of it indeed in an apple orchard on the other side of the Pelennor, but when he asked for the mistletoe, 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 impertinent woman's request."
"Was it old Gudrun?" Faramir enquired. "That sounds like the sort of remark she would make."
"Yes, that's the old crone's name, quite witless if you ask me, my lord."
"Do not worry about it, Lalaith," 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 and remarked: "From the description of the farm-wife on the Pelennor, of her name and her regard for the old ways, I would think that she is one of my people."
"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 Horse met her, when he went to Rohan to collect some colts promised to Gondor. They fell in love and were wed soon afterwards. She is quite well known as a woman of odd habits and manners. But what tradition makes her refuse to let any, save Aragorn cut the mistletoe?"
"It is believed by the Eorlingas that certain rituals must be observed in the cutting," Éowyn explained. "Otherwise, it is thought 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 the farm-wife by fetching the mistletoe myself," Aragorn decided impulsively. "For I would enjoy a gallop across the Pelennor. I have been indoors far too long."
"Why not take Faramir with you," Éowyn suggested, "He has been under my feet all morning. Arwen and I need to choose our dresses for tonight and find something for Elbeth to wear."
Elbeth grimaced 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 lots of itchy embroidery 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 forth together?" Éowyn said doubtfully, as soon as the men had departed. "They could meet with some misadventure, or tarry too long and be late, leaving us alone to enter the Merethrond and begin the festivities without our lords."
"Whatever could happen to them while 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 Lalaith we wish to see the Merethrond ablaze with light."
"I will fetch Eldarion and show him 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 must send the servants out to find a suitable Yule log," said Eowyn, "Then we had better get ready. Come, 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.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.