Winter Solstice

Day Shall Come Again

1. Night Falls

   
Boromir looked up from the scroll he was reading to
see the Master of Rivendell standing over him. "Is the
Vigil of the Long Night still kept in Gondor?" Elrond
asked.

He felt his temper flare. "Certainly it is!" a
winged eyebrow rose slightly and he got himself back
in hand. "Forgive me, Lord Elrond, in my country such
a question would be an insult. In the South only Men
under the Shadow fail to observe the Vigil."

The Elf-Lord nodded his understanding. "I see, of
course I intended no such slight. May I assume then
you will wish to join our Vigil tomorrow night?"

Now it was Boromir's turn to be surprised. "I would
indeed, thank you. But I didn't know Elves kept vigil
on Midwinter night."

"They do not." Elrond smiled slightly. "I am only
Half-Elven, and while I have chosen to be numbered
among the Eldar I do not forget my Mortal blood or its
heritage."
***

"Vigil? I never heard of any vigil connected with
the Yule festival." Pippin said interestedly.

Aragorn looked at him in mild surprise through a
cloud of pipe smoke. "The Hobbits of Bree light
candles and watch out the Long Night the same as the
Men, do they not do so in the Shire too?"

All four Hobbits shook their heads. "We have a
feast and exchange gifts on the day itself." Merry
offered.

"That we do as well," said Boromir, "but the night
is more solemn."

"It is a very ancient observance." Aragorn
continued. "Brought West by the Fathers of Men, and
followed not just by the Dunedain but by all Men free
from the Shadow."

Gimli nodded agreement. "The Men of Dale keep the
Vigil, and the Beornings as well."

"But not the Dwarves?" asked Frodo.

"Oh no, it is a practice of Men. We have our own
observances," his eyes twinkled, "which also include
feasting and the giving of gifts."

"What about Elves?" Pippin asked so anxiously that
the others laughed.

"Don't worry, my boy," Bilbo assured him, "they
keep the Yule feast too, and very well I might add!"

Pippin breathed a profound sigh of relief,
increasing the amusement of his companions.

"Perhaps you would like to observe the Vigil," that
was Gandalf climing the garden steps to join the rest
of the Company on the guesthouse terrace. "I think you
will find it interesting, Frodo."

"Is that allowed?" the Ringbearer asked
uncertainly.

"Oh yes, I used to watch it myself when I first
came," Bilbo assured him, "but now it's too long a
walk for these old bones, so I stay comfortable in my
bed."

"I have represented King Dain many times in Dale."
Gimli put in. "The Men there expect it as a courtesy."

"Every year a number of Elves, and any other guests
who so wish, watch with us." Aragorn agreed. "But they
take no part in the lightings or responses. As Gimli
says, it is an observance for Men."
***

Frodo straightened his jacket and wished yet again
for something better than travelling clothes. He'd
felt severely underdressed ever since he'd gotten out
of his sickbed.

He glanced at Aragorn and Boromir, waiting
patiently for Gandalf to finish his lecture on the
appropriate deportment for watchers of the Vigil. Both
Men were dressed quite differently from their usual
fashion, looking strangely alike in long clothes of
deepest grey with mantles of the same shadowy color
fastened on their shoulders by plain ring brooches.

"Now then," Gandalf was saying, with an especially
sharp look at Pippin, "if you have any questions ask
me, not Aragorn or Boromir. Their minds will be on
other things."

"Or supposed to be." Boromir smiled down at them.
"I must confess mine sometimes wanders, especially
towards dawn."

"In any case speech is not permitted to those
taking part in the Vigil, save for the responses."
Aragorn explained. "So we could not answer you if we
would."

"Quite." Gandalf agreed. "Watchers are not so bound
but do try to keep your voices down if you must talk,
and no idle chatter please!"

"Yes, Gandalf." the four Hobbits chorused
obediently.

The wizard surveyed them for a long moment, then
sighed. "Very well, let's go."

Two groups waited in the courtyard. A cluster of
Elves, including Legolas, dressed in somber colors.
And a little distance away Elrond and his sons and
five Men, Rangers from the look of them, all dressed
like Aragorn and Boromir in deepest grey. The Lady
Arwen and two other Elf women were with them,
similiarly clad with long veils covering their hair
and falling nearly to the ground.

Gandalf shooed the Hobbits over to join the group
of Elves, followed by Gimli, while the two Men crossed
the cobbled yard to Elrond's party.

Pippin tugged at the wizard's sleeve. "Gandalf, who
are those ladies with Miss Arwen?" he asked in a
penetrating whisper clearly audible to everybody in
the courtyard.

Frodo fought a smile, Merry covered his eyes in
despair and Sam rolled his upward in expressive
exasperation. The wizard sighed.

"Kinswomen of Lord Elrond's, and so part Man." he
answered. Adding to himself. "I do believe I'm going
to regret this."

It was indeed quite a long walk. Frodo could see
how it'd be beyond Bilbo's strength now he no longer
had the Ring to hold his years at bay. Lord Elrond led
the Men and his Half-Elven kin, with Elf and Dwarf and
Hobbit observers following at a respectful distance,
out the east gate of Rivendell and two miles or more
up the valley as the sun sank ever lower behind them
and the shadows grew dark and long.

The path branched away from the River and climbed a
small rise. A little stone bridge crossed a grassy
dike to a door set in a tall hedge spangled with white
roses. Lord Elrond took a key from around his neck and
opened it.

Inside was what seemed at first glance to be a kind
of park or pleasance its green sward starred by
wildflowers, even at midwinter, dotted with groves of
sweetly scented evergreen trees and statues and
standing stones not unlike those on the Barrow Downs.

But the atmosphere here was quite different.
Different too from that of the rest of the valley. In
Rivendell the very air you breathed had a blissful,
dreamlike quality quite unlike the ordinary, waking
world. Stepping into this place was like falling into
cold water at once shocking and bracing.

There was sadness here but not the gentle nostalgic
regret of the Elves. A keener sorrow, painful and a
little bitter. And there was another feeling too, that
made Frodo's heart beat faster but he could not put a
name to.

"Gandalf," he breathed, "what is this place?"

"The Hallow of Rivendell." the wizard answered as
softly. "The statues and stones are memorials honoring
Elrond's ancestors, and Aragorn's."

"You mean it's a graveyard?" Pippin whispered,
round eyed.

"There are a few graves, but most of those
remembered here lie far away, and some have no known
resting place."

"It doesn't feel like Elves." that was Sam's hushed
voice. "It feels like Men."

"It feels like Aragorn." Frodo said involuntarily,
because it did. Sad and stern and determined. He
shivered, sensing dimly what it must be like for
Aragorn's people, and Boromir's too, fighting an
endless hopeless war. Defending unknowing folk like
the Breelanders and the Hobbits of the Shire from the
horrors beyond their snug fields. It was wrong that
they had been left to fight alone for so long. Boromir
had every right to feel bitter, and Aragorn too.

The ground rose gradually to a little knoll, higher
than the trees about it, with a fire burning at the
top within a circle of undressed stones. Elrond
climbed the hill to stand facing westward over the
flames, Arwen at his side and the others gathered
behind them. All watching the last red rays of the
setting sun fade from the sky.

"Is it a year's end bonfire?" Merry whispered. "We
have that in Buckland, lit the morning of midwinter's
eve and allowed to burn all day, then doused at
nightfall."

"What's the point of a bonfire in the daytime?" Sam
asked, puzzled.

Merry could only shrug. "I don't know, really. It's
just the tradition. We douse the fire and then
everybody goes home and locks up tight against the
dark."

"Against the Dark." said Gandalf softly but with a
signifigance that made them look at him uneasily.

Then, on the knoll, Elrond spoke his voice deep and
carrying like a great bell. "Night falls. Darkness
takes the world."

"Yet day shall come again." the Men and Half-Elves
around him responded in chorus, their voices sending
little chills down Frodo's spine.

Lady Arwen drew a bundle of long white tapers from
beneath her veil, handed some to the women on either
side of her and then the three of them gave candles to
the men, leaving out only Lord Elrond.

By now the last light had faded from the sky, there
was no moon yet and the stars seemed very pale and
distant. Arwen lit a candle from the fire and stood
holding it in one hand and an unlit taper in the other
as her father doused the flames with water from an
earthen pitcher.

The night pressed in around them. Frodo's hand went
instinctively to his wound, shivering with the
remembered chill, felt the others shifting nervously
around him. But Gandalf stood still as stone, eyes
fixed on the figures on the hill, now illuminated by
the frail flame of the single candle.

"Yet even in the Great Darkness there was a Light."
Arwen said clearly and passed the burning candle to
her father, then lit her own taper from it. She moved
aside and one by one the others came forward to light
their candles from the one that Elrond held.

As the light grew, Frodo felt the chill in his
shoulder ease, lowered his hand. The other Hobbits'
faces looked pale in the flickering glow, and even
Pippin seemed beyond speech. Looking up he saw tears
gleaming, unshed, in Gandalf's eyes.

Suddenly the Men and Half-Elves upon the hill
turned away from each other, scattering in all
directions. Aragorn went right past them as if they
weren't there, face closed and intent in the golden
glow of his candle, to light a half dozen or so tapers
set round a standing stone.

All around them the others were doing the same,
illuminating stones and statues and filling the Hallow
with light. Only Boromir seemed to hesitate a moment,
at the foot of the knoll, as if uncertain where to go.
Then one of the Half-Elven women touched his sleeve,
drew him silently towards a sleander white statue a
short distance away.

"What does it all mean?" Sam asked softly. "It
means *something* that's plain, but what?"

Frodo swallowed, spoke through the ache in his
throat. "It means the Darkness can and must be
fought."

Gandalf looked down at him and smiled. "And that
one frail flame can give light and hope to many."

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.

   

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Morwen Tindomerel

Status: Beta

Completion: Work in Progress

Rating: General

Last Updated: 05/26/03

Original Post: 05/09/03

Back to challenge: Winter Solstice

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