1. First-Day Blessing
The day was drawing to a close as Boromir completed his rounds of the fortress at Cair Andros, making certain the guard was set and all defences secured. Scouts had reported no movement of the enemy upon either bank of the river, and sentinels who patroled the wooded areas of the island had also assured him that nothing was amiss and all was in order. Tonight was the longest night of the year; on this night, more than any other, it was important to be alert to any possible attack under the cover of darkness. The long hours before the new day dawned invited such an incursion, particularly from orcs who gained strength from the gloom of night. Yet, there had been no report of any movement of troops in the East for some days, and Boromir did not expect an assault of any kind. Nevertheless, he and the men who served under him knew they had to be ready if one came, and that meant constant vigilence by all. Boromir's daily rounds assured him that the fortress was secure and prepared against attack, and also served as an encouragement to the men who faithfully provided that security day in and day out.
As Boromir ascended the narrow stone staircase that led up to the guardwalk on the ramparts, the wind caught his cloak and whipped it around his legs. The weather had been somewhat mild for this late in the year, but there was a chill on the air and bite to the wind this evening. Time by the fire would be welcome at the end of the day.
The watchmen on the wall nodded respectfully as he approached. "Have you anything to report?" Boromir asked, as he gazed out eastward into the darkness.
"Nothing, my lord," came the reply. "It is quiet, nothing stirs in the night. All is as it should be."
"Excellent!" responded Boromir, satisfied. He caught the edge of his cloak and drew it tighter about his large frame. "Are you men warm enough up here in this breeze? It seems the weather is turning cool this night."
"Aye," one of the men replied. "'Tis a bit cool at that, but nothing we cannot handle. And we have a warm fire to look forward to later, do we not?"
"You will indeed have your fire," Boromir affirmed. "A special one, at that! Now that I am certain our fortifications are secure for tonight, I shall give the order that the mettarë bonfires be lit. There will also be extra rations and ale all around. We must celebrate the year's ending appropriately!"
Cheers greeted this pronouncement, and Boromir laughed. "Nevertheless, you will have to wait your turn. We cannot leave our fortress unprotected to celebrate by the fire! You men here will be relieved in due time to take your place in the celebration."
"Yes, sir!" cried the watchmen in unison as they swathed themselves in their cloaks and once more turned back to their sentry duty.
Boromir descended into the courtyard, where torches were flaring against the deepening dusk, and men went about sealing in the keep for the night. The great doors that opened out onto the road outside were closed and barred, though a wicket gate stood open still, to let in any who were yet to return from their patrols. There would be much coming and going this night, as men-at-arms gathered together to celebrate the ending of the year and the coming of the new.
"My lord!" called a voice, and Boromir turned to meet the man who sought him. It was Grithnir, his lieutenant.
"Ah, Grithnir," replied Boromir. "All is in readiness, then? Very well. Give the order to fire the wood for the bonfires, but make it known that the flames should be kept to a reasonable height; we do not want to draw so much attention with our fireworks that our enemies are warned of our merrymaking! Then send word to the captains that each unit is to take its allotted turn in the courtyard by the fires. No duty must be left unattended, so those who keep vigil, either outside along the shore and in the woods, or inside upon the walls and at the gate, will be relieved at intervals so that they may take part in the festivities. Make certain, however, that the wicket is shut after each change of the guard. I go now to speak with the cooks, to make certain all is in order for the required food and drink."
"It shall be done as you say, my Captain," Grithnir declared.
It was just past midnight, and Boromir was leading the men in a toast to the year-beginning, when one of the guards atop the gate gave the alert that someone was approaching. A loud hail from outside and a sharp rapping at the wicket brought the men in the courtyard to their feet, but Boromir simply laughed.
"Fear not! Open the gate and let them in!" he shouted. "I know that voice well. It would seem our brothers from Ithilien have come to join our celebration. Tell them to enter and be welcome!"
Men leaped to unlatch the door in the gate and fling it open. The first to step through into the courtyard was a tall, dark-haired young man. His hood was thrown back to reveal his face and in his arms he carried a wrapped bundle. Following closely at his heels was a small group of rangers, each man carrying a similar bundle.
Boromir ran forward to embrace the young man. "Faramir!" he cried. "It is good to see you here! I had little hope that we would be together this mettarë to farewell the old year and greet the first-day standing side by side -- yet here you are! I am glad."
"Well met, brother," Faramir replied, returning the embrace as best he could with the bundle between them. "Yestarë blessings to you! Did you think I would not come? In all these years, we have yet to miss celebrating year-ending together, so of course, I had to be here."
Boromir grinned, then prodded the cloth bundle gingerly with a finger. "What are these burdens you carry? I had thought it might be something useful for our feast, yet there is something sharp and prickly in this one."
"Do not fear, you shall have your feast, and more besides!" Faramir replied. "Mablung brings wine and bread, Damrod brings fresh meat for the spit, and Anborn and I bring something even more vital for such a celebration." He lifted an edge of the bound cloth under his arm to reveal a long branch of holly, with glossy leaves and bright red berries.
"Holly!" Boromir exclaimed with pleasure.
"Green holly for the ending of the year, to cheer the heart and keep out evil -- or so the custom says!" answered Faramir. "You have no holly here on this island, but there is plenty and to spare in Ithilien."
"I trust you did not put yourself in any danger simply to bring me a sprig of holly for my hearth to keep evil at bay!" Boromir said sternly.
"And if I did, what of it?" Faramir countered. "I am not afraid of danger -- and it was worth a bit of trouble to see the delight in your eyes at my gift, and to see you protected, no matter what form that protection takes."
"'Tis even better having you deliver that gift personally!" Boromir laughed, relenting.
Grithnir stepped forward then to greet Faramir. "Welcome, Captain Faramir," he said, taking the bundle of holly from him and handing it off to some men who proceeded to unwrap it for distribution around the keep. "You bring good fortune for the new year with your first-footing, as well as gifts of food, drink, and greenery to bless us."
"Am I the first to cross the threshold then?" smiled Faramir.
"You are, indeed," answered Boromir. "And you know it, too. I believe you timed it just so."
"Of course, brother!" Faramir grinned. " Is it not the custom that, to ensure good fortune for a household in the coming year, the first foot over the threshold in the new year should be the foot of a dark haired person, who brings gifts with which to bless the house?"
"That is the custom, o dark-headed man!" Boromir agreed with a wink. "I know not how effective such customs and traditions of old truly might be at bringing good fortune and blessing, but I do know this. Having my brother at my side on yestarë is most definitely an omen of fortune for me! I am blessed to have you here!"
The two brothers embraced once more.
"Now then, where is that wine you said you brought?" Boromir demanded. "We must toast the new year and the first-day blessing you bring us before the night gets any older!"
mettarë -- The last day of the year, which in Gondor fell in winter, the modern equivalent being December 21st
yestarë -- The first day of the new year, the modern equivalent being December 22nd
first-footing -- In Scottish and Welsh custom, the first-foot is the first person to cross the threshold of a home on New Year's Day and is a bringer of good fortune for the coming year. The first-foot is traditionally a tall, dark-haired male who brings several gifts, including a coin, bread, salt, coal, a drink, or greenery, which respectively represent financial prosperity, food, flavour, warmth, good cheer, and a long life.