1. Another Winter Solstice
Achoo. The sound echoed loudly in the cave and Halbarad winced. He looked up and found every member of the company looking at him, some with mildly amused expressions, others showing genuine concern for his well-being.
“Bless you, Halbarad,” Gildor said as he handed Halbarad a mug of freshly-brewed tea. Halbarad accepted it gratefully and curled his fingers around the hot tin, savouring the warmth it emitted. He huddled closer into the cloak that one of the Elves had lent him, for his was still damp after that afternoon's mishap, and sighed. The Elves continued to speak together in soft voices, leaving him to listen to the howling wind outside and the merry crackle of the fire that the Elves had managed to kindle. There must be some natural chimney that let all of the smoke out, he thought absent-mindedly, because the air around them was clear. He searched his mind for the answer to the question of why he was there, but found only a hole between the image of the cold water rushing towards him and the fair face of Gildor pronouncing him awake. But he told himself not to complain, relishing the fact that he was awake at all, that his teeth had stopped chattering and the shivers had abated to the occasional twitch.
He looked down at his tea and felt suddenly very lonely, perhaps more so than without the Elves “Happy mettarë,” he muttered to himself.
Gildor must have heard his quiet mumbling, for he separated himself from the group and took a seat next to Halbarad. “Are you well? You bear a sad expression, young one, especially for one whose life was saved this very day.”
Halbarad looked at Gildor and shrugged. “Men die. What is important is how we spend the time that is granted to us.”
Gildor laughed at that. “So you would rather have other company?”
Halbarad took a sip of his tea. Then: “It is not that. You have saved me, given me warmth and nourishment, but I feel... excluded.”
Gildor’s face grew serious. “We have our own sorrows and labours; how should we know that you might be interested in our talk? Or that you even long for talk? We are not as well-versed in the ways of you mortals as Master Elrond is.
“Then you do not know the special meaning that this day has to us.”
Gildor cocked his head to the side, then pursed his lips and turned to the others of his company. “Friends, does any of you know the significance of this day? Come then, young Halbarad will enlighten us.”
Curious as to what Halbarad had to say, the group stood up and settled down beside the fire.
“This night my people celebrate the last day of the old year and the beginning of a new, hopefully brighter one.”
“In the middle of winter?” cried an Elven woman. “But all is asleep now! Why should a new year be celebrated now and not in spring when everything around us starts to bloom and grow anew?”
“Because for us it is a sign of hope in the darkest of times. And hope is needed these days.” He sneezed again and cleared his throat. “For centuries we have been hosting a huge celebration in the Great Hall at that time of the year, to which the whole village is invited. Even now they will be gathering for the feast and merriment. As soon as it grows dark they will light all the lanterns and the many candles that are put on the tables as well as in the windows. At no other time is it so bright in the hall and also outside than this night. At midnight they will take their lanterns, gather outside and sing merry songs as well as hymns to Elbereth to greet the new year. When I was a child it used to be my favourite time of the year even though I did not understand the meaning of the customs. But I was allowed to stay up late into the night; and that was enough, then.”
“A reasonable practice in a dark time,” Gildor conceded, "I had not heard of that practice before. But now you have your Hope again. And maybe more hope will come of that. Speaking of him, do you know where and how he is?"
“When last I saw him a few weeks ago he was quite well. Now he probably is celebrating mettarë with my, our, family.”
"Ah, that is good to hear. But I hope that he has not succumbed too much to the mundane ways of men. His presence is sorely missed in the Halls of Imladris."
If Halbarad had not been so miserable, he would have gotten up and told Gildor precisely how common the Dúnedain were. Instead, he settled for a dark glower.
What he saw in Halbarad's face obviously amused the Elf, for he laughed yet again. “Peace, Dúnadan, I was merely joking. I know how your people struggle to preserve as much of your your ancient customs as you can, but they are not always comprehensible to my kin.”
“Perhaps it is so,” Halbarad answered. “Even though we have close ties to your valley, we remain true to ourselves. And that includes celebrating the end of the year in the middle of winter.”
“But you gave up the pure form of Adûnaic once you arrived on these shores,” Gildor pointed out.
“True enough, but the sentiments that we associate with Adûnaic are somewhat bitter. But it survives still in the form of Westron, that both our people use when we have intercourse with other peoples.”
Gildor nodded. “Your speech is fair, young one, and your arguments admirable for a mortal. But what pains me is while you are fluent in Sindarin, you do not know enough of the High Elven tongue. Perhaps you might one day come to the valley, where we will teach you Quenya, son of kings.”
“Now he calls me 'son of kings',” Halbarad snorted and eyed Gildor suspiciously. “That might be true, but why should it imply that I am willing to learn Quenya? I am perfectly happy with my bilingualism. Thank you very much.”
“Now he is getting grumpy! Maybe we could entertain him with a song since he is going to miss those of his kin.” He turned to the others and cleared his throat.
“What about this. With it I will honour this important day:
Who comes swimming in the river cold?
'Tis a young ranger who is very bold
Too much was it for him
And his vision grew dim
And oh my, he would not grow very old
But the day was not for the ranger to die
For some ancient Elves came walking by
And pulled him from the river
Complete with sword and quiver
And rubbed the young ranger warm and dry
They then settled in a little cave together
Until the young ranger would be better
Shivers and such started soon
Before the rising of the moon
But for the Elves that did not matter
They did brew him some hot healing tea
That Gildor placed on the mortal's knee
They spoke of the new year
That the ranger holds dear
But his reasons Gildor seems not to see
But the Elf to Halbarad was very kind
Even though he was of another mind
He raised his full cup
And wished him luck
Then another place did he find!”
The Elves clapped and laughed at that piece, but Halbarad shook his head and turned away from the others. “Just pour oil onto the fire and mock me. I am, after all, the sick, defenseless mortal one of the company.”
“Oh, but it was not my intention to mock you, but to keep it in our memory. We did a good deed today, after all. And in addition, I wanted to give you a sample of my skill.”
“It does not reach that of Lindir, though,” remarked another Elf, “it may rhyme, but the form is not clear!”
“Oh, be quiet, Gelion; it suits the purpose well enough!” A woman that Halbarad found quite attractive admonished him. “But look at our poor guest. He is not used to being teased as Estel is.” She seated herself on Halbarad's other side and put her face close to his. “They are sometimes really terrible, but they do not mean it. Please do not feel insulted by their antics.” The beautiful voice of the Elven woman intoxicated him and Halbarad felt ready to do everything that she desired of him.
He looked at her and felt himself blushing. Or maybe it was the fire and the tea that was finally warming him up. He yawned and felt his eyelids grow heavy.
“Elves are strange creatures,” Halbarad mumbled.
“Sleep, young one, we will stay here and watch over you. May the coming year hold a blessing for you,” was the last thing that Halbarad heard before he succumbed to a much-needed sleep. Tomorrow would be another year.
Note: The Elven year started with the beginning of spring, while among the Dúnedain mettarë was celebrated in December until it was changed to March 24th in the Fourth Age, the New Year beginning at the day of Sauron'sfall.
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.