3. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
"Insipid? You have not tasted them as they should be cooked, obviously," Aragorn grinned. "Roasted chestnuts are a dish fit for a king, or a steward for that matter!" He had already divested himself of his gauntlets. Taking out his knife, he started to prepare the chestnuts, by cutting a small cross in the side each one.
Faramir copied his example and soon the chestnuts were roasting merrily on the fire. The cat, awakened by the sound, sat eyeing them balefully with glittering green eyes.
"At last I can warm my hands," Faramir said, holding them out towards the fire.
"You will get chilblains doing that," Aragorn cautioned, "Come, let me warm them for you!" He reached out and took Faramir's hands between his own. "Your hands are like ice!" he exclaimed, rubbing them vigorously. "Why did you not say so before?"
"I am accustomed to having cold hands," Faramir replied. "I can only think I was born that way. When I was on campaign in the army, I spent every winter covered in chilblains. Now, your hands are exceptionally warm!" He sighed contentedly at the King's touch, finding as always, that there was something immensely soothing in Aragorn's very presence. It seemed not only his hands but every part of his body was infused with comforting warmth. A wonderful feeling of peace enveloped the room, sensed even by the cat, which curled up and went back to sleep again.
"I think the chestnuts will be ready now," Aragorn said after a few minutes had elapsed, finally releasing his Steward's now comfortably warm hands. He removed the pan from the fire and blew on them to cool them. He then offered Faramir one to sample.
"Mmm, this tastes good!" Faramir sounded surprised, as he savoured the sweet floury taste.
"I told you they would be!" Aragorn replied a trifle smugly, dividing the chestnuts between himself and his Steward. "Eat up! There are plenty more."
For a few minutes there was silence broken only by contented munching and the sound of the cat purring in its sleep. This is not so bad a way to spend Yule," Aragorn said at last breaking the silence. "Roasting chestnuts with loved ones, is in the North, considered the ideal way to celebrate the feast."
Faramir's heart was filled with a warmth that came not only from the fire. He had spent his entire childhood vainly yearning to hear such words from his father. His new lord gave him all the open-hearted affection that his father had denied him, and had become both as brother and father to him. Impulsively, he hugged the King, easily able to show him all the love that Denethor would have repulsed.
Aragorn unhesitatingly returned the gesture. He loved the younger man as dearly as a son and had never forgotten that he owed his throne and the beloved wife he could only wed once he attained it, to Faramir's acceptance of his claim. Not only had his Steward smoothed his path to the throne, but his guidance and detailed knowledge of Gondor's laws and history had proved invaluable. Faramir was also the most loyal and devoted of friends who had saved his life on more than one occasion. Faramir leaned his head against the King's shoulder in a brief, affectionate gesture, before throwing another handful of chestnuts into the pan.
"Have I fully convinced you of the merits of roasted chestnuts?" Aragorn enquired, smiling.
"I defer, as always, to the wisdom of my King!" Faramir answered with mock solemnity.
They happily finished their second helping. The ginger cat, once satisfied that no more popping sounds were about to issue forth from the hearth, settled itself on Aragorn's lap where he stroked it absent-mindedly.
"I wonder if the moon has risen yet?" Faramir fretted, " Éowyn will be wroth with us if we are late for the Ball."
"Even after the moon rises, I still have to satisfy Dame Gudrun that we are worthy of her precious mistletoe," Aragorn said dryly.
"What will she have us do?" Faramir asked.
"Well, maybe we will have to climb the apple trees, then run naked round the orchard three times before standing on our heads!" Aragorn said solemnly.
"No!" Faramir exclaimed in horror. "Let us leave, and quickly!"
"Peace, Faramir!" Aragorn chuckled, "I was only jesting. I will just need to convince her that I am whom I say. You take what I say too seriously at times."
Faramir nodded. He found himself smiling at the absurd vision Aragorn's imagination had conjured, realising Éowyn would have told him if such strange rituals were indeed the custom of Rohan.
They lapsed into companionable silence and were becoming drowsy, lulled by the fire's warmth, when Gudrun's entrance startled them back to full wakefulness.
"The hour has come! The moon has risen over the orchard. You may cut the sacred branch and then be on your way if you are worthy!" Gudrun announced, then stared, astonished, at the sight of the cat on Aragorn's lap. "Have you bewitched my cat?" she demanded indignantly, "He comes to none save me!"
"A cat may look at a king and even deign to choose his lap if it so chooses," said Faramir, rising to his feet as he spoke. Aragorn did likewise, dislodging the cat, which gave an indignant meow. It retreated to the chair, where it sat washing itself, eyeing them disdainfully.
"You could take lessons from that cat on how to look even more Kingly and mysterious," Faramir teased, as the two men followed Gudrun to the orchard.
"The cat would still manage to look superior even if I were to practise for a hundred years!" Aragorn replied, grinning.
Now that the moon had risen, it veiled the orchard in enchantment. Mist lingered under the trees and an owl could be heard hooting in the distance.
"Behold the sacred grove!" Gudrun intoned.
Faramir suppressed an urge to smirk as a pale cloud shifted to reveal the true shape of Dame Gudrun's orchard. The straggly trees they were standing beside hardly merited such an impressive description. He forced himself to concentrate on holding a lantern Gudrun had provided.
Aragorn fumbled at his belt for the ceremonial dagger. Gudrun eased the shawl she was wearing from her head and intoned "Béma, Lord of Forests, we thank you!"
Aragorn pushed back his hood as a gesture of respect for her beliefs, and nudged his Steward to do likewise. He approached the tree where the mistletoe grew most profusely and raised the blade to cut it.
"Wait!" Gudrun said sternly, "You have not sung the incantation. Only he who knows the ancient words of wisdom may cut the sacred plant.
Faramir groaned inwardly. It seemed that their quest was doomed to failure. Éowyn would be furious! He held the lantern to illuminate the King, who was shuffling his feet and looking slightly embarrassed. Then to the Steward's surprise, Aragorn began to sing.
"Béma, Lord of Forests, bringer of fruits,
Tamer of horses, help of the hunter, lord of the land!
This night, we invoke thee, ask for thy aid!
Bring us thy blessings, cherish thy children,
Bestow us thy bounty, grant us thy gift!"
His voice, deep and sonorous echoed through the frosty night, awesome in its melodic beauty. There was something ethereal and ancient in the haunting melody of the song. Its sheer loveliness brought tears to Faramir's eyes.
Just then, the moon reappeared from behind a cloud to shine its silver rays upon Aragorn. Tall and kingly he stood, his dark hair framing his noble features, the light reflected off the gleaming blade shining in his eyes.
The bells from the City rang out to mark the Solstice at that moment, as was the custom at Mettarë.
Gudrun gasped and fell to her knees, as did Faramir. Oft had moments like this, in which Aragorn was transformed, and appeared as the legendary Kings of Old, occurred. Faramir had seen it happen several times now, but it never failed to fill him with awe. This was Aragorn, his close friend who had become as a father to him. Yet, Aragorn now seemed as remote and incalculable as one far above all other living men.
"Aragorn Arathornsson, you are indeed worthy of my mistletoe!" Gudrun exclaimed.
"Faramir!" Roused from his reverie by the King's voice, Faramir rose to his feet and took the freshly cut sprigs that Aragorn handed to him, while he cut several more.
"Thank you, Dame Gudrun," Aragorn said courteously, as they left the orchard, the precious mistletoe carefully wrapped in a cloth. He handed her some coins.
"No, my lord," she protested. "It is yours by right!"
"Take it!" Aragorn insisted, "I insist, so that I may ask you in future to supply the Court with mistletoe to celebrate the festival. Éowyn Éomundsdaughter of the House of Éorl would have it thus."
"You should have told me to begin with that your wife wanted my mistletoe!" Gudrun scolded Faramir.
"Would you have surrendered it more easily then, Dame Gudrun?" Faramir asked.
"No, but I would have liked to know!" she retorted.
"So, may we then rely on you to supply the Court next Yuletide?" Aragorn pressed.
"Only if you cut the mistletoe with your own hand!" she cautioned, this time accepting the money.
"Gladly, my lady," Aragorn agreed. He was always eager for reason to leave the walls of Minas Tirith behind when they occasionally seemed to close in on him.
Carefully stowing the mistletoe in their saddlebags, they set off homewards, casting a final backward glance at the moonlit orchard, now deserted. It shimmered as if made of precious mithril under the silver orb of the full moon.
The Star of Eärendil shone brightly overhead as they rode back across the Pelennor.
"You should make a wish," Aragorn told Faramir, "In the North, it is believed that if you wish upon the jewel of the sky at Yuletide, your wish will come true."
"I already have everything I could ever wish for," Faramir replied, "I have my family at my side and Gondor enjoys peace and prosperity. What is there to wish for save that my life may continue thus?"
"That is my wish too!" Aragorn replied, "I have everything I could wish for."
Lights started to appear in the fields as more bonfires were lit to celebrate the Winter Solstice.
"I think maybe we should have made a wish after all," Aragorn said ruefully.
"What for?" asked the Steward.
"To return in time for the banquet, lest our wives show us the full force of their wrath!" the King replied, urging his horse to a gallop.
Faramir did likewise and they rode as if the Black Riders themselves were in pursuit.
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.