Something, anything about family traditions.
Format: Short story
Characters: Ivorwen, Gilraen, OFCs, Dírhael, Aragorn, Arwen, Eldarion.
Pairings: Ivorwen/Dírhael, Gilraen/Arathorn, Aragorn/Arwen
Summary: Every Mettarë, a candle is lit.
The wind howled around the house, its cry promising yet more snow before morning. Ivorwen shivered as she re-entered the lamp-lit kitchen. “There is a storm brewing,” she said. “I hope your father returns home ere nightfall.”
“He said we should begin the feast without him,” said Inzilbeth, without looking up from her spinning.
“It’s Mettarë. I want daddy,” said Gilraen.
“He will try to be here to eat with us, my sweet,” her mother replied.
“I can hear hoof beats,” said Inzilbeth, she rose to her feet, cocking her head to one side and straining to listen.
Ivorwen opened the door again and looked out into the freezing darkness. She listened intently. “The horse is not coming this way.”
“I wish it had been his horse,” said Inzilbeth. “I’m hungry.”
“Let us light the Mettarë candle,” said Ivorwen. “We will eat if your father still isn’t home afterwards.” She led her daughters into the living area, which was decorated with branches of holly and yew. Going to the dresser, she opened a drawer and took out a thick new beeswax candle, which she placed in a candlestick in the centre of a table.
“What’s that?” asked Gilraen.
“Don’t you know?” said Inzilbeth impatiently.
“Your sister was too young last year to remember,” said Ivorwen.
“I expect she will forget this year too!”
“Peace, girls,” Ivorwen said sternly. She removed her fraying shawl with its loose threads, which she wore around the house and took up her best one, which she draped around her head and shoulders. She dimmed the lamps so that only the light of the fire remained. She then took up a spill and lit it from the blazing fire in the hearth. Going over to the table, she solemnly lit the candle. “The days grow dark, but the light will return,” she said in a clear loud voice. “While light yet glows in the West, it will never be extinguished.”
The three stood watching the flame in silence for a few moments. Ivorwen felt a stab of pride as she studied her daughters’ intent faces. They were good girls, both of them. Inzilbeth would soon be a young woman and a very capable one too, while Gilraen was swiftly changing from a chubby baby into a pretty little girl. She had despaired of bearing more healthy children when Gilraen had surprised her with her arrival. “May the Valar protect our family and hearth!” she said at last, noticing Gilraen was beginning to fidget. Ivorwen took up the candle and placed it in the window, then relit the lamps. If only Dírhael would return. There were too many fell creatures abroad these dark nights.
“Why do we speak of light in the West?” asked Inzilbeth. “The sun rises in the East.”
“The words refer to the Men of the West and the lore they brought with them to Middle-earth,” Ivorwen replied. “We are of the Children of Lúthien and it is said her line will never fail. Now, help me set the table, Gilraen. Inzilbeth, take the pot off the fire. The food will spoil if we don’t eat now.”
It was then that they clearly heard the approach of hoof beats. A few moments later, Dírhael entered, shaking the snow from his cloak.
“Daddy!” cried Gilraen running towards him.
He picked her up and placed her on his broad shoulders.
“We feared you would miss the feast,” said Inzilbeth.
“How could I not be home for Mettarë?” said Dírhael. “I saw the candle in the window lighting my way home.”
The Elf- woman looked confused as she handed Gilraen the candle. “I am sorry, my lady, I did not realise that your candles had burned down and needed replacing,” she said.
“I should have explained,” said Gilraen apologetically. “I needed a new candle as it is Mettarë and we have a tradition in my family.
The Elf smiled as understanding dawned. “Ah yes, I recall now that Eru’s younger children celebrate the festival at the same time as the winter solstice. Enjoy your celebration, my lady!”
“Celebration!” Gilraen almost spat the offending word as the door closed behind the Elf. What had she to celebrate? She was a widow, at an age younger than most maidens were wed and far from her home and her kin this night. She almost stuffed the candle into the depths of a clothes chest. Then she remembered her mother’s words on the day she had left for Rivendell.
“Teach our ways to your son, Gilraen,” Ivorwen had said. “Do not let him come to manhood ignorant of the customs of his own family and his own people.”
Gilraen had hugged her mother tightly and given her word. Tears pricked her eyes as she remembered that last conversation. She missed her mother so much. It was her duty to keep the promise she had made.
Gilraen glanced across the room to where Aragorn was playing with some stuffed toys. Content that he was safely amusing himself, she took up a shawl and covered her head and shoulders with it. She placed the candle in a candlestick and lit it from one of the candles already burning. Taking a deep breath, she said aloud; “The days grow dark, but the light will return. While light yet glows in the West, it will never be extinguished.”
The words sounded hollow to her ears. Arathorn would never return and each year it seemed that there were fewer of the line of Lúthien left. Her son was the last direct male heir of the line of the Kings of old.
She stared at the candle flame, remembering the happy Mettarë feasts of her childhood. They were simple affairs, but her home was always filled with love. She thought of her parents lighting the candle tonight and of Inzilbeth and her husband and young Halbarad. “May the Valar protect our family and hearth!” she whispered. She had no hearth to call her own and most of her family were far away. She picked up the candle to take it to the window, but found she could not. Tears poured down her cheeks. Gilraen replaced the candle on the table.
“Naneth!” Her son left his toys and ran towards her on chubby legs, his small face crumbled in concern.
Gilraen scooped Aragorn up in her arms. He smothered her tear stained face with kisses. “Naneth, don’t cry, Estel make it better!”
Gilraen smiled through her tears. While her son lived and thrived, there was still light and hope for the future.
She placed the candle in the window and imagined herself at home.
The royal family always breakfasted together on special occasions and Mettarë was no exception. Aragorn smiled contently at his children’s happy chatter.
“I’ve a new gown to wear at the feast,” said Farawyn. “It is blue silk and it shines in the torchlight!”
Eldarion rolled his eyes. “It is bad enough to have to dress up without you keeping reminding me.”
Sensing a disagreement brewing, Aragorn asked. “So who can tell me what is special about Mettarë then, apart from having new clothes?”
“It is the shortest day,” said Eldarion. “It used to be the last day of the year before wicked Sauron was defeated.”
“We have my favourite things to eat,” said Farawyn.
“And what else?” prompted Aragorn.
“We light the Mettarë candle,” said Eldarion.
“That is most important of all,” said Aragorn. “We light the candle before we welcome our guests and begin the feast.”
“I have the candle ready,” The Queen gestured towards a side table where a magnificent beeswax candle decorated with gold leaf stood waiting. “The days grow dark, but the light will return,” she said softly. “While light yet glows in the West, it will never be extinguished. You are the light of the West, beloved.”
“Many bore the light before me.” Aragorn closed his eyes and was back in his childhood rooms in Rivendell, watching his mother light the candle. Then he was a young man in Grandmother Ivorwen’s house, watching her as she placed the candle in the window. So many had followed this tradition, waiting and hoping that the candle flame would pierce the ever- growing darkness. Now the light shone on his children, but would they remember those who went before them?
His little daughter interrupted his reverie. “Lighting the candle is the best part of Mettarë,” she said. “When I grow up I’m going to light one for ever and ever!”
A/n. Wishing all my readers health and happiness in 2016.This was first published for BTME in March and has been revised for the season.