Emyn Arnen, Mettarë, F.A. 15
The parcel arrived from the city in the early afternoon, but my mother was out riding, and my father would not consider opening it until her return. Bron and I wanted Léof to try his luck with Father, but he strolled past us and went on his way. “Have a little patience,” he said calmly. “She’ll be back soon enough.”
But patience was not our strong point that day. We lugged the parcel (it needed both of us) into the library, where Father was napping by the fire, a cup of honeyed tea cooling on the table beside him and the second volume of Cemendur’s Odes open flat across his chest. Hearing our barely smothered laughter, he opened his eyes, saw us with our burden looming before him, and closed his eyes again. “Monstrous, ill-bred children,” he said, settling back more comfortably in his chair. “Go away, the pair of you! And leave that there!”
Mid-afternoon, the sky went suddenly dark. Rain lashed against all the windows of the home of the Lord and Lady of Emyn Arnen. It would be dark and cold in the forest tonight, but here inside the fires and the lamps were lit, and there was going to be feasting and dancing. Mother arrived home, striding into the hallway and laughing as she shook the water from her. “Soaked!” she cried out, for the whole house to hear. “I’m home and I’m soaked!”
Bron and I, sprinting downstairs, divested her rapidly of cloak and hood and boots, shoved a towel into her hands, and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders. Then we put her between us and dragged her off to the library. “What’s this all about?” she said, suspiciously, and then caught sight of the huge parcel on the floor beside Father’s chair. Her eyes sparkled. “Ah!” she said, sitting down cross-legged in front of it, rubbing dry her glorious hair, which spread out behind her like cloth of gold.
Soon enough, four of us were gathered round the parcel – my mother, my father, my elder brother, and I. Léof remained in his chair, nose in book, engrossed in his own business. “Well,” said my father, eyeing the three of us soberly, “I wonder which of us is going to get to open it?” Suddenly, he made as if to grab at it. The rest of us dived in. Mother, naturally, was fastest; Bron and I, split seconds behind, toppled onto her. Mother surfaced from beneath us with a shriek of victory – Yes! – her arms wrapped round her prize. Father, who had not moved another inch, rested back on his heels and laughed.
Together we undid the packaging. Within lay a huge piece of dark cloth, folded over several times upon itself, and we took a corner each, spreading it out across the carpet. When that was done, the four of us gazed in wonder at this latest piece woven by the Queen. Father called back over his shoulder. “Léof, you’ll like this. Come and see.”
My little brother slid down from his chair and came to join us; two fair heads and three dark ones looking down at this royal gift. “Ah,” Léof said, peering at the woven picture like a wise old man, “Cirion and Eorl.” Father brushed fondly at his too-long fringe. “Cirion and Eorl,” he agreed.
For there they were, those two great lords, Steward and King, dark-haired and yellow, swearing the oaths that tied their peoples together as the golden sun glowing lit up the Hill of Awe. At the top of the work, in my mother-tongue, the Queen had lettered this: “I vow in my own name and on behalf of the Éothéod of the North that between us and the Great People of the West there shall be friendship for ever.” And at the bottom, in the ancient language of the West, she had lettered this: “This oath shall stand in memory of the glory of the Land of the Star, and of the faith of Elendil the Faithful, in the keeping of those who sit upon the thrones of the West and of the One who is above all thrones for ever.”
“For the new hall,” Mother said, softly, and took Father’s hand.
“A work of art,” said Father, simply. He stood up and gazed down at the piece. His eyes were bright. “We should hang this before the guests arrive,” he said. “Before tonight.”
Mothers’ Night, they call it in Rohan, the longest night, when the hearth and its keepers are honoured, and we keep in part to that custom here – in part only, because this is Ithilien, not Rohan, a new place, a new land built from the old. Each year that I could remember, my mother had said the words and lit the candles. But not this year. This year I was fourteen, and the task now fell to me. And this year we were gathering for the first time in the new hall.
All summer, the building had gone on – foundations laid, walls raised – and all autumn, the work went on inside. That afternoon, the five of us went in there together and watched as the Queen’s web, the last decoration, was fastened on the wall behind my parents’ seats. My mother stood with her wet head resting upon my father’s shoulder; my father was barefoot with his book tucked under his arm. Later, when we welcomed our guests, he was handsome and princely in black and green; she was glowing and vital in white and gold.
After we had eaten, the fire was screened and the lamps were put out. I held the taper under the cover of my hand. Looking out across the hall, I saw that everything was dark and I could make out nothing. Behind me, though, my father stood, and my mother’s hand was upon my shoulder.
“This was the day which was shortest,” I said, as well as I had hoped I would, “and this is the night which is longest. But the stars shine upon us, and the year turns now. The darkness passes, and the light shall return.” As I said this last, I lit the candle before me, and its flame leapt up, piercing the dark of the hall. It stood for a moment, proud and lonely, until my mother, leaning forwards, lit her candle.
“This is where the light begins,” she said, her strong voice filling the hall. “With us, here, in Ithilien.” Turning to my father, she held the light out to him and, at the moment his candle lit, I heard his clear voice rise in turn, starting the song, and then my brothers joined him: A! Elbereth Gilthoniel! Soon the whole hall was singing:
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees
The starlight on the western seas.
I looked out again. The light had spread to each corner. Before me, our guests and the candles; behind me, the blessing of the Queen. And later, when the tables were moved back, there was music and there was dancing, and I shall never forget the sight of them, my mother and my father, in the glow of the lamps, spinning together at the heart of the hall.
The oaths are from ‘Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan’ in Unfinished Tales. The verse appears throughout The Lord of the Rings. The ceremony is my own invention. The whole was inspired by Alawa’s marvellous Keepers of the Hearth.
Altariel, 3rd May 2011
Altariel, 3rd May 2011