There were candles on the table: three of them, two white and one red; slender tapers set in a brass holder shaped like a rayed star. Three candles, just as there always were come the Yule season; three candles, and one empty space left. One for each week of the month, and the fourth shall be added tonight, Halbarad thought, gazing at them as a certain nervous trepidation seized him. For I shall add that one tonight, he thought, and felt his heart speed in response. Always before, it had been his father, Hirthon, or his mother, Marweth, who had lit the candles and spoken the proper words. His had always been the part of the questioner, but this year, his sister, Dírlas, would be responsible for the asking. "You are eleven, Halbarad," his father had told him last month, as the two of them had stood on the edges of the town with four or five other Rangers who would travel with Hirthon. "You are quite old enough to take my place this year, and to teach your sister your part."
"But what if I make a mistake, Ada?" Halbarad had asked, plaintively. Hirthon had shaken his head and chuckled.
"Then, lad, you make a mistake. Everyone's tongue trips sometimes; 'tis not the end of the world. Better a slip of the tongue than of the blade, after all," Hirthon had replied, easily, and ruffled his hair. "Besides, every man must one day learn to answer the questions he asks. 'Tis your turn, now. Take care of your sister for me, and mind your mother."
"You shall be fine, Hal," his father had said, and clapped him on the shoulder.
And where is Father, I wonder? Halbarad thought, staring out the window at the setting sun. Will they light candles tonight in their camp? Or have they a camp? Have they candles? He could not remember whether his father had taken any with him or not. I suppose they may just light the camp fire tonight. If they have a camp fire. He knew that sometimes, it was too dangerous to risk open flame. Other times, there was no dry wood available, and one year, Caranthar had said that he had spent Yuletide tracking wolves. There had surely been no candles for him or any of the men who had hunted with him.
This year, though, Caranthar would be spending Yule's Eve with his family in the Angle, for it was Hirthon's year to patrol. The Angle's chief lieutenants traded off, so that every other year, they could spend the season at home, and so not utterly fail in their duties as husbands and fathers. Later in the evening, Halbarad knew, he would see Caranthar, when the denizens of the Angle gathered to celebrate some two hours after the sun had set. Almost as another uncle, was Caranthar, and Halbarad rather wished he could join his family at the table tonight. But such was not permitted, and so Halbarad stood by his father's empty place at table and fiddled with the matches, thinking: Three of us, and three candles, and the last one missing. There was surely something fitting to be gleaned from that, but at that moment, a voice asked from the kitchen, "Hal?"
Startled, Halbarad nearly dropped the matches, and he turned quickly towards the doorway to see Dírlas standing there, looking worried. Five years old and precocious, his sister's brow was furrowed with concentration as she gazed up at him, critically. "Dírlas," he replied, heaving a sigh, and then narrowed his eyes, "What is it? Is something the matter?"
"Don't want to tell you," Dírlas replied, ducking her head.
"Come now, you can tell me," Halbarad wheedled, going to kneel down before her. "Ada said I was to look out for you, and I am eleven now. You can tell me anything!"
"Anything?" Dírlas asked, peeking at him from behind her braids, which stuck out at odd angles this evening.
"I won't tell," Halbarad replied, and leaned close so she could whisper (loudly, as was her way) into his ear:
"I don't think you will be as good as Ada at this." Halbarad nearly groaned. Of course she would say that! She always says these things just at the wrong time! Like the time she had told him what his friends had planned to do to him on his birthday, or the other time, when she had told him she thought he would not tell a very good joke just before he had told it and thereby ruined the mood. Before he could say anything, however, Dírlas reached out and patted his hand, and said, "But that's all right. I will pretend you are Ada."
"Eh... my thanks. I think," Halbarad replied, and sighed softly. Glancing round once, he then looked her squarely in the eye and said quietly, "You know what? I don't think I will be as good as Ada, either. I will need you to ask the questions, so that I don't forget my part. Can you do that?"
Dírlas nodded, confidently. "Yes. I practiced today, Hal."
"Good for you."
"But," and Dírlas tugged on his hand now when he would have risen, and she leaned close to whisper once more, "why do we have four candles?" At that, Halbarad smothered a grin. Of course, Dírlas was very young, and probably barely remembered the ceremony from last year.
"Well, that is what we shall find out tonight," he assured her brightly. "That is why you are the questioner."
"And you will tell me the answer?"
"I promise," Halbarad replied.
"What about Nana?"
"She has another part," Halbarad replied. "You will see."
"Oh what now, Dírlas?" Halbarad asked, detained a third time.
"I cannot see the candles from here."
"Ah... well, come then. Up we go!" Halbarad replied, hefting her in his arms–and grunting, since she was no longer so small as she had been–and setting her atop her chair. "There. Better?"
"Nana will not be mad?" she asked, for their mother ever scolded Dírlas if she climbed up to stand on the furniture. Halbarad opened his mouth to answer her, but was spared the task by Marweth herself, who appeared just then in the doorway to the kitchen.
"Not tonight," Marweth replied. Giving her daughter a smile, she wiped her hands on her apron, which she then made haste to do off and lay over the back of another chair. Tucking a few stray hairs back behind her ears, Marweth, efficient as ever, indicated that they should face west. "'Tis nearly sunset. Stand and be silent." Halbarad and Dírlas obeyed, watching as the great disk of the sun sank lower and lower on the horizon, scorching the sky as it went. Light faded, and at length, the last brilliant arc disappeared, leaving Halbarad with naught but the glare in his eyes. I wonder if Father does as we do, wherever he is? Stands with his men and watches the sun set...?
At his side, Marweth stirred, and then her voice sounded in the darkened room: "Here once was light. Here once was light, where now lies darkness. As all stars set that rise, and all flames die that burn, here once was light, that fades before the longest dark of the year, before the long dark of our people. For this night is different from all others, and so we light candles." So she spoke, as throughout the Angle, mothers and daughters, sisters and wives, spoke likewise, and began the ceremony that the Dúnedain of Arnor had kept for a thousand years and more. It was also the questioner's cue, and Halbarad glanced at Dírlas, who raised her chin proudly and asked:
"Why are there always four candles at Yuletide, Naneth?"
"There are always four candles so that we may remember through them the light," replied Marweth.
"But where does the light come from?" Dírlas asked, and then turned pointedly to Halbarad.
My turn now. Drawing a deep breath, Halbarad approached his father's place at table, and stood as straight as he could, wishing that his voice did not sound so thin and childish, that his tongue did not feel like to cleave to the roof of his mouth and trip him in his speech. Better a slip of the tongue than of the blade, Hirthon's words echoed in his mind. You shall be fine, Halbarad. And so he swallowed hard and, striving to keep his voice steady, responded slowly, "The light of our people comes from many places, yet always we name four when the darkness lies heavy upon us. So I call them." Reaching down, he picked up the matches set before him on the table, and struck one. A flickering light flared brightly, and he leaned forward to touch the flame to the wick of the first candle. "White for Eärendil, mariner of the heavens, white for the bearer of the Silmaril–" and as the fire caught, he moved then to the next candle "–White for Elendil, mariner of the waters, white for foam of the ship-bearing seas–" and thence to the third "–Red for Isildur, bearer of burdens, red for the blood spilt in his name. These we remember, and yet look before us–" as Marweth produced a final red candle from a pocket and set it firmly in its holder "–we look before us, to the one who will come. And we name him our king, Envinyatar, the one who shall renew the light of old." And with that, Halbarad quickly touched the match to that final candle, then shook it out ere it could burn his fingers. "Eärendil above us, Elendil behind us, Isildur beneath us, Envinyatar before us." There. 'Tis finished, Halbarad thought, and breathed out a large, if silent, sigh of relief.
"Four candles for Yuletide," Marweth spoke then, commanding his attention once more. "Three for the past, and one holding forth for what must come, hope ever present, awaiting the moment when it should become flesh." She paused, and for the first time in all the Yuletides that Halbarad could remember, she smiled then, and radiantly, and reached out to lay a hand upon the shoulders of son and daughter, as she finished: "Here once was light, where darkness now lies. And so we light candles..."
"–for it cannot endure forever!" they all three of them chorused then.
Envinyatar means Renewer, and is one of Aragorn's titles.
Nana, Naneth--"Mom" and "Mother" (also Sindarin)
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.