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At the Rising of the Moon
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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3
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.
Torme and Wells 1946

For Raksha


~~~

“Insipid? You have not tasted them as they should be cooked, obviously!” Aragorn grinned. “Roasted chestnuts are a dish fit for a king or a steward for that matter!” He had already divested himself of his gloves. Taking out his knife, he started to prepare the chestnuts, by cutting a small cross in the side each one.

Faramir copied his example and soon the chestnuts were roasting merrily on the fire. The cat; awakened by the sound, sat eyeing them balefully with glittering green eyes.

“At last I can warm my hands!” Faramir said, holding them out towards the fire.

“You will get chilblains doing that!” Aragorn cautioned, “Come let me warm them for you!” He reached out and took Faramir's hands between his own. “Your hands are like ice!” he exclaimed, rubbing them vigorously. “Why did you not say so before?”

“I am accustomed to having cold hands,” Faramir replied. ”I can only think I was born that way. When I was on campaign in the army, I spent every winter covered in chilblains. Now, your hands are exceptionally warm!” He sighed contentedly at the King's touch, finding as always, that there was something immensely soothing in Aragorn's very presence. It seemed not only his hands but every part of his body was infused with comforting warmth. A wonderful feeling of peace enveloped the room, sensed even by the cat, which curled up and went back to sleep again.

“I think the chestnuts will be ready now,” Aragorn said after a few minutes had elapsed, finally releasing his Steward's now comfortably warm hands. He removed the pan from the fire and blew on them to cool them. He then offered Faramir one to sample.

“Mmm, this tastes delicious!” Faramir sounded surprised, as he savoured the sweet floury taste..

“I told you they would be!” Aragorn replied a trifle smugly, dividing the chestnuts between himself and his Steward. “Eat up! There are plenty more.”

For a few minutes there was silence broken only by contented munching and the sound of the cat purring in its sleep. This is not so bad a way to spend Yule, mellon nin,” Aragorn said at last breaking the silence, “Roasting chestnuts with loved ones, is in the North, considered the ideal way to celebrate the feast.”

Faramir's heart was filled with warmth, which came not only from the fire. He had spent his entire childhood vainly yearning to hear such words from his father. His new lord gave him all the love that his father had denied him and had become both as brother and father to him. Impulsively, he hugged the King, easily able to show him all the affection that Denethor would have repulsed.

Aragorn unhesitatingly returned the gesture. He loved the younger man as dearly as a son and had never forgotten that he owed his throne and the beloved wife he could only wed once he attained it, to Faramir's acceptance of his claim. Not only had his Steward smoothed his path to the throne, but also his guidance and detailed knowledge of Gondor's laws and history had proved invaluable. Faramir was also the most loyal and devoted of friends who had saved his life on more than one occasion. Faramir, Arwen, and his young son; these three were dearest to him and to lose any one of them would break his heart.

Their heads touched, causing their thoughts to mingle, reaffirming what by now was a familiar, but always a deeply moving spiritual experience for them. For what could be more precious than to actually experience the depths of love and loyalty within each other’s hearts?

Faramir nuzzled his head against the King's shoulder in an affectionate gesture before throwing another handful of chestnuts into the pan.

“Apparently I have convinced you of the merits of roasted chestnuts!” Aragorn grinned.

“I defer, as always, to the wisdom of my King!” Faramir replied with mock solemnity.

They finished their second helping and the cat, once satisfied that no more popping sounds were about to issue from the hearth, settled itself on Aragorn's lap where he stroked it absent mindedly.

“I wonder if the moon has risen yet?” Faramir fretted, “ Éowyn will be furious if we are late for the Ball”

“Even after the moon rises, I still have to satisfy Dame Gudrun that we are worthy of her precious mistletoe,” Aragorn said dryly.

“Whatever will she have us do?” Faramir asked.

“Well maybe, we will have to climb the apple trees, then run naked round the orchard three times before standing on our heads!” Aragorn said solemnly.

“No!” Faramir exclaimed in horror, “We should leave now!”

“Peace, mellon nin !”Aragorn chuckled, “I was only jesting! I will just need to convince her that I am whom I say. You take what I say too seriously at times!”

Faramir nodded. He still found Aragorn's teasing and sense of playfulness hard to get used to. He had never expected a king to have a sense of humour. He found himself smiling at the absurd scenario Aragorn's imagination had conjured up, realisingÉowyn would have told him if such strange rituals were indeed the custom of Rohan.

They lapsed into companionable silence and were becoming drowsy, lulled by the fire's warmth, when Gudrun’s entrance startled them back to full wakefulness.

“The hour has come! The moon has risen over the orchard so you may cut the sacred plant and then be on your way if you are worthy!”Gudrun announced, then stared astonished at the sight of the cat on Aragorn's lap “Have you bewitched my cat?” she demanded indignantly, “He comes to none save me!”

“A cat may look at a King and even deign to choose his lap if it so chooses!” Faramir told her, rising to his feet as he spoke. Aragorn did likewise, dislodging the cat, which gave an indignant meow. It retreated to the chair where it sat washing itself, eyeing them disdainfully.

“You could take lessons from that cat on how to look regal and aloof!” Faramir teased as the two men followed Gudrun to the orchard.

“It would still manage to look superior even if I were to practise for a hundred years !”Aragorn replied grinning.

The orchard looked like an enchanted world, now that the moon had risen. A sharp frost had coated the gnarled branches, which shimmered in the moonlight. Mist lingered under the trees and an owl could be heard hooting in the distance.

“Behold the sacred grove!” Gudrun intoned.

Faramir repressed an initial urge to giggle, as the straggly trees they were standing beside, hardly merited such an impressive description. He forced himself to concentrate on holding a lantern Gudrun had provided.

Aragorn fumbled at his belt for the ceremonial dagger. Gudrun eased the shawl she was wearing from her head and intoned “Bema, Lord of Forests, we thank you!”

Aragorn pushed back his hood, as gesture of respect for her beliefs and nudged his Steward to do likewise. He approached the tree where the mistletoe grew most profusely and raised the blade to cut it.

“Wait!” Gudrun said sternly, “You have not sung the incantation. Only he, who knows the ancient words of wisdom, may cut the sacred plant.

Faramir groaned inwardly. It seemed that their quest was doomed to failure and Eowyn was going to be furious. He held the lantern to illuminate the King, who was looking slightly embarrassed and shuffling his feet. Then to the Steward's surprise, he began to sing.

“Bema, Lord of Forests, bringer of fruits,

Tamer of horses, help of the hunter, lord of the land!

This night, we invoke thee, ask for thine aid!

Bring us thy blessings, cherish thy children,

Bestow us thy bounty, grant us thy gift!”

His voice rich, deep and sonorous echoed through the frosty night, awesome in its beauty. There was something ethereal and ancient in the haunting melody of the song. Its sheer beauty brought tears to Faramir's eyes.

Roheryn, hearing his master's voice, neighed joyously, a call that was swiftly echoed by Iavas.

Just then, the moon reappeared, illuminating Aragorn in its silver rays. Tall and kingly he stood, his dark hair framing his noble features, the light reflected off the gleaming blade shining in his eyes.

The bells from the City rang out to mark the Solstice at that moment, as was the custom at Mettare.

Gudrun gasped and fell to her knees, as did Faramir. There were moments like this, in which his friend was transformed, and appeared as the Kings of Old out of legend. Faramir had seen it happen several times now but it never failed to fill him with awe. This was Aragorn, his close friend who was as a father to him, his healer and mentor. Yet, he could become as remote and incalculable, as one far above all other living men. Faramir was reminded that this was the greatest who now lived, a figure out of legend, who had commanded even the Army of the Dead to his will and brought Faramir back from the very brink of death.

“Aragorn Arathornsson, you are indeed worthy of my mistletoe!” Gudrun exclaimed.

“Faramir!” Roused from his reverie by the King's voice, Faramir rose to his feet and took the freshly cut sprigs that Aragorn handed to him while he cut several more.

“Thank you, Dame Gudrun, Aragorn said courteously, as they left the orchard, the precious mistletoe carefully wrapped in a cloth. He handed her some coins.

“No, my Lord King!” she protested, “It is yours by right!”

“Take it!” Aragorn insisted, “I insist so that I may ask you in future to supply the Court with mistletoe to celebrate the festival! Éowyn Éomundsdaughter of the House of Éorl would have it thus!”

“You should have told me to begin with that your wife wanted my mistletoe!”Gudrun scolded Faramir.

“Would you have surrendered it more easily then, Dame Gudrun?” Faramir asked.

“No, but I would have liked to know!” she retorted.

“So may we then rely on you to supply the Court next Yuletide?“ Aragorn pressed.

“Only if you cut the mistletoe with your own hand !” she cautioned, this time accepting the money.

“Gladly, my lady,” Aragorn agreed, always eager for an excuse to leave the sometimes suffocating walls of Minas Tirith behind for a while.

Carefully stowing the mistletoe in their saddlebags, they set off homewards, casting a final backward glance at the moonlit orchard, now deserted. It shimmered as if made of precious mithril under the silver orb of the full moon.

The Star of Eärendil shone brightly overhead as they rode back across the Pelenor.

“You should make a wish,” Aragorn told Faramir, ”In the North, it is believed that if you wish upon the jewel of the sky at Yuletide, your wish will come true!”

“I already have everything I could ever wish for,” Faramir replied, “I have your friendship and you have taught what it feels like to know a father's love, the greatest of the many gifts you have so freely given me. I have a beautiful wife and daughter and Gondor is prosperous and at peace. What is there to wish for save that it may continue thus!”

“That is my wish too!” Aragorn replied, “With you at my side together with Arwen and Eldarion, I have everything!”

Lights were starting to appear in the fields as more bonfires were lit to celebrate the Winter Solstice.

“I think maybe we should have made a wish after all,” Aragorn said ruefully.

“What for?” asked the Steward.

“To return in time for the banquet lest our wives show us the full force of their wrath!” the King said, urging his horse to a gallop.

Faramir did likewise and they rode as if the Black Riders themselves were in pursuit.

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