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The Best Gift of All
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Author’s Note--The mettarë ritual described here was first depicted by Altariel in her story A Pale Light Lingering. I’ve used it once before with her permission, so I don’t think she’ll mind if I use it again. Besides, this is her Christmas card. There you go, short stuff--Happy Faramir.


“Faramir, lad, your aunt is looking for you,” Adrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth said to his grandson. “Heavens, are you going to spend all of mettarë in the library, when there is so much merriment without?”

Said grandson, gone coltish with the advent of his fourteenth year, was curled upon the couch near the fire, a book in his hand.

“Grandfather, this is making merry for me,” he said earnestly. “No arms practice, and I get to read what I want instead of that list of Father’s! It is just the sort of holiday I would wish for.”

Adrahil sighed in fond exasperation. It was five months since Faramir had come to spend the year in Dol Amroth, and the boy would have spent the whole time immersed in the library had the Prince let him. “Well, pleased as I am that you are enjoying yourself, your aunt has asked for your help. I know you keep mettarë more quietly in Minas Tirith, without all of this fuss; but here, there is holiday work to be done! You have been assigned to baking duty. You will report to your aunt in the kitchen, and help her produce honey cakes for the feast.” Faramir gave him a polite look of resignation, and he chuckled. “I am given to understand that the less-than-perfect specimens are to be consumed by the bakers.”

That got Faramir’s attention, for while he had the thirst for lore of a much older man, his appetite for food was that of any growing boy. He got up with much more enthusiasm than he had shown but a moment before, placing his book upon the table beside the couch with a ribbon Nimrien had given him marking his place. The former-archivist-turned-Princess of Dol Amroth did not permit her family to lay books open face down.

“Very well, Grandfather, I will go to her now.” And he loped out of the room.


The kitchens of Dol Amroth were a clean, warm and pleasant place, particularly when the weather was wet and rainy, as it was now. Faramir arrived to find his aunt and two older cousins sitting at one of the big tables by a window, rolling out dough and using metal cutters to make it into shapes. Amrothos, almost three, sat on Nimrien’s lap, sabotaging every effort she made to create a pretty cake. She resigned herself to the inevitable just as Faramir arrived, giving the toddler a large ball of dough with which to play. Amrothos received this with glee, and was even more joyful the next moment when he saw his older cousin, a great favorite of his.

“Fairmir! Fairmir! Come make cakes! Come make cakes with me!” he caroled, waving his dough about in excitement. His mother swiftly took it from him and deposited it back on the table before it could fall on the floor.

“Not another ship, Chiron!” Eleven-year-old Elphir was complaining. “Make some stars or holly or something else, for Valar’s sake! Look, here‘s a dragon!”

“But I like ships!” Eight-year-old Erchirion replied mildly, then, after a side-long glance at his brother, he swiftly cut out another one.

“MOTHER!” Elphir complained. Nimrien sighed.

“Enough, boys. Elphir, mind your own cakes and don’t be pushing your nose into your brother’s business. ‘Chiron, I do think you need to make some other things besides ships--we have enough of those. Oh, hello, Faramir dear,” she added, turning to see her nephew, and wrapping a slender arm around his waist to draw him close. Faramir, who over the last five months had been forced by necessity to become accustomed to the more tactile nature of his Dol Amroth relatives, suffered the familiarity well enough, and even gave his aunt a gentle hug. “Why don’t you go get an apron out of the pantry there, and join us?”

“If you wish, Aunt Nimrien. Grandfather said you needed my help. But wouldn’t you rather I took Amrothos, so you could make some cakes? He’s not….squeezing the baby, is he?”

Nimrien, whose waist had visibly thickened in the last four weeks, smiled kindly. “No, he’s not squeezing the baby. Babies don’t squeeze quite so easily, Faramir, though you are very sweet to ask. But I would rather you made the cakes--I have done it many times before, and I know that folk in Minas Tirith don‘t make them.”

“I think perhaps that folk in Minas Tirith do, Aunt Nimrien. It is just our family that doesn’t.”

“Be that as it may, I’ll still have more chances to do it than you will, I’ll wager. Go get an apron.” Faramir did as he was told.

The next hour was pleasantly spent rolling out dough, cutting it into shapes and placing it on the baking trays. Acquiring a small skewer, Faramir employed his artistic talents in scratching details into the cakes--scales on the dragons, rays on the stars, veins on the holly leaves, rigging and planks on the ships--to the great amusement and admiration of his younger cousins. He got smudges of flour on his face, hands and clothing, despite the apron, and consumed enough deformed cakes to have totally ruined his appetite for the feast, had it not been held at the third hour after sundown. Eventually his aunt declared herself satisfied, and shooed the children on their way, as the cooks and bakers were beginning to get extremely busy. Amrothos had fallen asleep in her lap, and Faramir lifted him so that she could get up.

“Shall I take him upstairs for you, Aunt?” he asked politely. “He’s starting to get pretty big and heavy. I don’t think you should be carrying him.”

Nimrien put a hand to the small of her back as she stretched. “Oh, he’s not too heavy, though I’ll admit I’m relieved he can walk now. But just this once, yes, I wish you would. That way I won’t have to carry him up the stairs.”

As he followed his aunt to the nursery, Amrothos a warm weight on his shoulder, Faramir asked a question that had been much on his mind. “Is Uncle going to be here by tonight? I thought his ship would have returned by now. And the weather is bad.”

Nimrien gave him a smile that was meant to reassure, but Faramir could see the worry in her eyes. His Uncle Imrahil had sailed up to Minas Tirith on business a couple of months ago, but had written promising to be back by mettarë. While most of the trip was on the Anduin, which was nowhere near as treacherous as the sea, Imrahil did have to traverse the Bay of Belfalas to come home. Hardly the open sea, but Nimrien had cause to worry; her own parents had been killed when their ship wrecked in a sudden storm in the Bay when she was a very young girl.

“The weather is rainy, but there’s not a great deal of wind. Imri will be all right; he’s a canny sailor. And he’ll be here when he said he would.” Having arrived at the nursery, she turned the covers upon Amrothos’ bed down while Faramir laid him down and pulled his shoes off.

“Hopefully, he will take a good long nap,” the Princess said, looking down at her precocious youngest, “for I intend to do likewise.” She gave her nephew an inquiring look. “You might wish to as well--we will be up late tonight celebrating.”

“Aunt! I am too old for such things!” Nimrien smiled at his adolescent indignation.

“Of course you are.” She kissed his cheek, and laughed. “Do you know, you are getting taller by the day! Before long, I shall have to go on tip-toes to do this, just like with Imri!” Faramir looked pleased at that prospect, and she tugged at the sleeve of his tunic, which was showing a bit of bony wrist. “Time for new clothes as well, it would seem.”

“I have the new suit for tonight,” he said, a bit dismayed. Like any other young man of his age, clothes were not an important preoccupation in his life, and he hated being fitted.

“Cheer up, Faramir, we won’t have to take your measure again--we’ll use the new suit as a guide to cut the others.” That did in fact cheer him up, and he gave his aunt one of his sweetest smiles. He had come to the conclusion recently that he would like to find a lady very much like his aunt to take to wife when the time came. Finger to lips, she took him by the elbow, and moved quietly out of the room, closing the door softly behind them.

“Thank you for helping me, Faramir. I am always tired at this stage of things, and you’ve done a great deal to make things easier for me.” Faramir ducked his head and blushed, as was his habit when receiving praise.

“Uncle is certainly going to be surprised when he comes home!”

“Yes, he will be.” She was obviously looking forward to telling Imrahil the news. “I do hope it’s a girl this time. I’m beginning to feel a little outnumbered! Off with you now, Faramir! Enjoy your afternoon--and don’t spend the whole time in the library.”

“I won‘t, Aunt Nimrien.” He turned to go, then turned back suddenly, and quick and shy, pecked her cheek with soft lips before he escaped. Nimrien, surprised, pleased and very touched, watched him go with her fingertips raised to her cheek and a smile on her face.


Faramir spent the rest of his afternoon quite pleasantly, strolling about the castle and listening to the minstrels play. Dol Amroth was renowned for its music-makers, and at this time of year became, as his uncle would have put it, positively infested with minstrels. He had a harp of his own, an old instrument that he liked to play at times, though he had no ambitions to be a musician, even in the unlikely event his father would have permitted such a thing. But he did like music, and music was there to be had in abundance. Tiring of that eventually, he did return to the library and his book, only to find that his grandfather was still there. They played a game of chess instead, which he greatly enjoyed. His grandfather was not the bloodthirsty player that his father or Aunt Tirathiel were, and he could relax over the game, knowing that any mistake he made would not be considered a shortcoming, but rather an opportunity to quietly teach.

They were eventually forced to leave the game before it was finished, that they might ready themselves for the feast. Faramir’s new suit of clothes was a handsome Dol Amroth blue, for Nimrien refused to dress him in black. It was trimmed in silver, with far more extravagance than his father would have allowed, and he thought it rather nice-looking, as such things went. He came into the hall to find it brightly lit and thronged with people. Evergreen garlands festooned the rafters, hung there by agile young esquires, and the scent of spices and sandlewood filled the air. A certain amount of unavoidable socialization followed; as the Steward of Gondor’s second son, he was sought after, despite his youth. But it was not a great hardship, as he had grown up at court, and he had cleverly timed things so that he had arrived but shortly before the feast commenced.

His uncle had not been able to do the same, and the empty place at Adrahil’s side was very obvious. Elphir and Erchirion were inconsolable despite the glories of the feast, and while his aunt was putting a good face upon things, he could tell that she was worried. He tried not to worry himself, having the odd idea that if he could succeed in not worrying, then there would be nothing to worry about. As the feast proceeded, course by excellent course, he managed well enough that he was able to enjoy it. Besides, he was hungry again.

Finally, the most solemn moment of mettarë came. The fire on the hearth was quenched and all the lights were doused. In the darkness, Faramir heard his aunt gasp, and wondered if she were well. A shadow moved next to his grandfather, handing him the lighted taper. Strangely, the hand remained upon his gnarled one. Then the words were spoken in two voices; his grandfather’s, still strong, and another with his uncle’s beautiful tones.

“This was the day which was shortest, 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.”

The candle was passed, first to Nimrien’s side that she might start the light moving about the hall, and then to Faramir, that he might do the same, for his lineage gave him the place at his grandfather’s other hand. The crowd began to stir and talk among themselves once more, and the esquires moved to swiftly rekindle the fire in the hearth, and the many candles that lit the room. As the light grew, his uncle was revealed, leaning over Adrahil‘s chair, still in his seaman’s clothes, rain drops in his dark hair and on his heavy cloak.

“The light has returned, and so have I,” he declared, striking a theatrical pose. There was a sack slung over his shoulder. “You may all revel now!” he informed the hall at large, to much applause. Musicians began to play a dance measure as he greeted his family. Nimrien rose from her chair to fling her arms around his neck, drag his head down and kiss him fiercely, heedless of the damage the damp would do to her fine gown.

“Here now, love, what’s this? ‘Tis not as if I had sailed to war- ‘twas just a business trip to Tirith.” She whispered something in his ear, and he started. A big grin came over his face, and he looked down at her appraisingly, his free hand reaching out to rest gently upon her belly. “Truly? In the late spring? And you are feeling well?”

“Yes, and yes, and yes, Imri!” She kissed him again, emphatically. He, for his part, responded with equal fervor. Whistles, clapping and suggestive remarks began to emanate from those observers closest. Faramir watched, smiling. Though he was not demonstrative himself, by nature or upbringing, he still enjoyed watching his mother’s family. Their very obvious affection for each other warmed his heart.

“Father! Father!” Elphir and Erchirion had squirmed out of their chairs and were clamoring for attention. The space behind Adrahil’s seat was getting a bit cramped, as Imrahil released his wife to embrace his sons one-handed. Erchirion, noticing this and the sack, got right to the point.

“Did you bring us something?” His father cocked an eyebrow at him as his brother growled, “’Chiron!”

“Did I bring you anything? Since when am I not welcome in my own home unless I come bearing gifts?” Imrahil inquired, seemingly offended, though Faramir could see that his eyes were twinkling.

“Honestly, ‘Chiron, you are so RUDE!” Elphir declared, though he too was looking at the sack with interest. This did not go unnoticed by his brother.

“You want to know too! You’re just too scared to ask! Well, Father? Did you?”

“Well… that you mention it…..I do seem to have picked up a couple of things on the way home.” Erchirion, the demonstrative one, whooped as his father took the sack off of his shoulder and reached in to pull forth an a long, narrow case. The younger son gave it a dubious look as it was handed to him, until he opened it and found out what was inside.

“Oh, Father! Thank you! A spyglass!” Imrahil smiled.

“I have heard that sailors find them useful at times. I hope you don’t mind, but I gave it a bit of a trial on the way home.” Erchirion shook his head to indicate that he didn’t mind, and the Heir to Dol Amroth reached back into the sack, pulling out a beautiful, silver-trimmed bridle, which he presented to his eldest son.

“Father, this is beautiful! It’s just like yours, isn’t it?” His slender fingers caressed the smoothly braided leather.

“Pretty much so--I had the same leather-worker make it. And of course, I didn’t forget your mother.” Another reach into the bag produced a package wrapped well in cloth, which was presented to the Princess. She unwrapped it, to find more cloth, of shimmering fineness beneath.

“Imri, whatever is this?”

“A chemise. Of the finest Khandian silk.” Nimrien lifted the garment, and blushed furiously.

“Imri, you can see right through this!” Brow furrowed, the Prince scrutinized it.

“Do you know, I think you are right? Oh yes, now I remember--that was my present to me!” Nimrien hit him on the arm, but Faramir could tell that she was pleased nonetheless. He reached back into the sack, and pulled out another cloth-wrapped package. This one, when unwrapped revealed a book, whose title, when Nimrien perused it, caused her to squeal with delight.

“Falborn’s Bestiary! I’ve been wanting this forever! However did you find it?” Imrahil’s arm snaked about her waist.

“That milady, is a tale in and of itself, of derring-do and much hard bargaining….it would be best told to you alone…..” The Heir to Dol Amroth began coaxing his wife towards the door, taking a moment to the snatch up the chemise, which had been draped over the back of her chair.

“But Imrahil, we have guests, and you haven’t eaten a thing yet and…” Her protests were cut off by another kiss.

“Later.” He continued his progress towards the door, and was almost out, when he stopped and looked over his shoulder at his nephew.

“Oh. Faramir. I almost forgot. I have a gift for you as well, but it wouldn’t fit in the sack. It’s out here,” and he gestured out the door to the corridor behind the high table.
Faramir, who had been firmly telling himself that presents were for immediate family and that he had no right to feel disappointed or excluded, smiled.

“Uncle, you did not have to--”

“Of course I did. You’re family too. Come along.” Curious, he followed his uncle and aunt out into the corridor. Was it perhaps a new bow, he wondered? He certainly needed one.

In the corridor, he found that no gift was immediately apparent, only a tall man in dark clothes, sitting one of the benches in the hall with his nose buried in a book. Then the man lowered the book, and looked at it in distaste.

“It’s in Elvish, and it’s poetry. I can’t make head or tails of it, so it must be yours, little brother.”

“BOROMIR!” Boromir stood up just in time to be hit with the full force of a lanky, fourteen-year-old body. He wrapped his arms about his younger brother and held him tightly for a moment, then relaxed his hold, looking over Faramir’s shoulder to grin at his uncle and aunt.

“Goodness, but he seems glad to see me! What have you people been doing, torturing him?”

“No, no, everybody has been very kind,” Faramir assured him swiftly.

“I was jesting, Faramir!” Boromir laughed, releasing him to put him at arms’ length. “Valar, I think you’ve grown two inches since I saw you last!”

“He has,” chuckled Nimrien. “Trust me. I’m about to have him a whole new wardrobe made.”

“I shouldn’t make too large a wardrobe, love, for you’ll just have to do it again in two months,” advised Imrahil, obviously enjoying the reunion. “ And now, if you’ll excuse us, gentlemen, I have a sea story to tell my wife.” Whereupon he reached down, scooped up Nimrien, and proceeded to carry her bodily off down the hall, her laughing protests echoing behind them. “Imrahil, you rogue, put me down! Put me down, I say! You’re making a spectacle of yourself!” The two brothers watched them go, smiling.

“Well, if one must be married, that seems the way to go about it,” Boromir commented.

“Indeed. Aunt Nimrien is very nice. How did you get to come here? And how long are you going to stay?”

“Grandfather wrote Father and asked him. You know Father doesn’t like to cross him. So he agreed, and Uncle brought me. I’m staying a month.”

“A whole month? How wonderful!”

“Yes, I rather thought so too. After over a year, I’m ready for some leave. And Dol Amroth is such a cultured city…I’m starved, little brother. Had a spot of trouble with my stomach on the Bay, but that’s over now. Do you suppose there is any food left? Or more importantly--drink?”

“All kinds, in the hall. Come on--you can see Grandfather too.” Faramir pulled his brother back into the hall and found his grandfather still sitting on his throne at the table, watching the dancers, who were doing something ornate and patterned upon the dance floor.

“Grandfather, ‘tis good to see you!” Boromir exclaimed, leaning around his chair to embrace the old man and press a kiss upon his cheek. Adrahil smiled with pleasure.

“Boromir! I am glad that you were able to join us!” He gave his grandson a sympathetic and knowing look. “How did your stomach weather the journey?”

“Surprisingly well, though I do wonder why it was that Faramir got mother’s sea-legs, and I did not!”

“Such things are unfathomable even to the wisest of men,” the Prince of Dol Amroth declared, and motioning to a servant, commanded, “Food for the Steward’s son, and quickly.” He motioned them to take seat themselves, and they did so, Boromir at his side, and Faramir beside him. Boromir passed the book of Elven poetry over to his brother with a lamentable lack of ceremony.

“This is yours, remember?” Faramir took it, and opened it, and his eyes lit up as he scanned the page. Boromir sighed.

“There. I’ve done it now. He’s gone.”

“Not quite yet, I think,” his grandfather disagreed. “Faramir? How find you mettarë in Dol Amroth?"

Faramir, his stomach full, his beloved brother at his side, and a new book in his hand, beamed.

“Oh Grandfather, I like it well! Very well indeed!”


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