“Is that not a more suitable task for you, or Eldarion’s nanny?” Aragorn asked his wife desperately.
“I have a meeting with the Embroiderers' Guild while the nurse has the day off to visit her family,” Arwen explained. “I know you have a free afternoon.”
“Well, could not one of the nursery maids stay with Eldarion then?”
“You should know by now that our son needs a firm hand when it comes to having new clothes fitted,” Arwen said sternly. ”Last time he wriggled so much that the tailor could not alter his tunics to fit him properly. Eldarion simply hates standing still for tailor's work. He does not inherit such wildness from me!”
Aragorn fidgeted uncomfortably beneath his wife’s keen gaze. Eldarion was not the only member of the House of Telcontar who found it difficult to keep still while he had new garments fitted.
“Very well, vanimelda, I will see that Eldarion’s clothes for the Mettarë feast are fitted correctly,” conceded the King, sighing deeply.
“Please stand still, Master Eldarion,” begged the tailor, a short plump man with a nervous air about him.
“Do as you are told, ion nîn,” said Aragorn sternly. “Surely you want to look smart for the Mettarë Feast?”
“I hate having to wear silly clothes to attend feasts!” Eldarion grumbled in the jaded tones of one who had dozens of such occasions, rather than the three he actually had. “When you were a Ranger, Ada, did you have to dress up for Mettarë?”
Aragorn shook his head. ”The life of a wandering Ranger is a hard one, my son. We moved around too much to keep animals for food; our feasts were usually whatever we could scrounge on the day and a bottle or two of wine if we were near enough to a stash of provisions." He thought back to those cold nights of early winter spent with his men in the wilderlands. Aragorn closed his eyes for a moment remembering Halbarad and others of his Rangers who had perished in the long struggle against Sauron. "As for dressing up,most of us owned only the clothes we stood up in and a change of linens. We spent more coin on our weapons than on the cut of our cloth.
The tailor looked so shocked he dropped the bolts of silver-gilt black and gold cloth he was holding.
A sudden flash of inspiration struck Aragorn. ”If you are very good, we will celebrate Mettarë in traditional Ranger fashion before it is time for the feast.”
“Thank you, Ada!” The cloth was again knocked from the tailor’s hands as Eldarion ran to embrace his father. From then on, Eldarion stood so still and quiet that Aragorn started to fear that something ailed the boy!
“Is it wise to go riding with Eldarion with so little time left before the feast?” Arwen fretted. “It is bad enough when you fetch the mistletoe from Dame Gudrun!”
“That is why I fetched it yesterday, so I would have time to take Eldarion out today,” said Aragorn. “We are not going far and the weather is good for travelling. There is no snow or ice underfoot.”
“I will see that they are back in time, ”said Faramir, who was hovering at his lord’s side.
“Very well, but do not be late for the feast!” said the Queen. “I will call for the servants to bring you some hot drinks to have before you go. I do not want any of you taking a chill!”
A short time later, Aragorn, Faramir and Eldarion rode out through the City gate, followed closely by several guards. It was a cold, grey winter afternoon. Dusk was starting to fall on a day that had never really been light.
“I am curious about these Northern Ranger customs of yours,” said Faramir, bringing his horse alongside Aragorn’s. ”In Ithilien, we had a bonfire and stood around it to toast the coming year and pray that the darkness would not prevail.”
“They are very simple,” said Aragorn. ”I only hope it will not be too cloudy to observe all the traditions. We begin here.” He reined Roheryn to a halt beside a large holly bush bedecked with brilliant red berries. The King dismounted and intoned “Yavanna, gracious giver, who deserts us not entirely in darkest winter, for this symbol of renewal, we thank thee.” Drawing his sword, he cut several sprigs of the dark green leaves and distributed them amongst the party, telling them to wear it on their cloaks. The King pinned Eldarion’s sprig in place telling his son. ”We wear the holly leaves as a symbol of hope that the land will be renewed. Holly is a very special plant as it is still fresh and green even in the depths of winter. The Elves have long cultivated it.”
“Where are we going, Ada?” asked Eldarion once they had remounted.
“Just as far as the copse yonder,” said Aragorn, gesturing towards some trees about a mile distant. “It should be dark by the time we get there.”
“Why does it have to be dark, Ada?” the little boy asked.
“You will see, I hope,” said Aragorn looking up anxiously to the sky. To his relief the clouds were parting as the last of the grey winter daylight faded. He urged Roheryn forward, narrowly avoiding a large stone in their path.
“Ranger festivals are very dull!” Eldarion remarked once they reached the unremarkable copse and halted before it.
“I doubt your father would bring us out here if there were not something important to see,” Faramir chided gently.
Aragorn’s keen gaze was searching the heavens. He smiled when he found what he was seeking. “Look above the tallest tree!” he cried, pointing upwards towards the Star of Eärendil, which gleamed like mithril against a small patch of velvet blue sky. ”Now make a wish!”
The company ceased chattering as they concentrated on their heart’s desires. A great stillness descended as they contemplated the shining star. Even the horses were quiet and the owl ceased her hooting.
“A! Elbereth Gilthoniel! silivren penna mírielo menel aglar elenath!” Aragorn started to sing softly in a rich, clear tone.
Faramir felt tears pricking his eyes. To watch Gil-Estel rise in a sky unshadowed by the Enemy still made him shiver with joy.
Aragorn finished the hymn and then gestured to the others to join in. They all knew the words from the oldest soldier of peasant stock to the King’s young son.
“I think I like the Ranger traditions, Ada!” said Eldarion as they rode homeward.
“Every year we would look at the star and see it as a sign that the light was always there, however dark the path before us might seem,” said Aragorn. “By Elbereth’s grace, the Star of Eärendil led me safely home.”