On Christmas Day in the Morning

Then let us all rejoice again,
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;
Then let us all rejoice again
On Christmas Day in the morning.
"I Saw Three Ships," traditional

The tall man fingers the dark-green leaves with a faint and puzzled smile. Looking up at the shopkeeper, he says slowly, "So you tell me that this plant is meant to inspire love…" His raised eyebrow requests her to repeat what she has just told him.

She sighs and reiterates. "In a way, yes. It's mistletoe, sir. Two people who step under it together must kiss. It's a very old tradition, and if you don't mind, it's Christmas Eve and I'd like to get home to my family."

"As would I," he tells her, and from the look in his eyes it's truer than she can imagine. She shivers, though in the humid air of the shop she can't be cold. "Yes, I'll take—how much shall I take?"

"Just a little bunch: like that." She cuts a sprig with her all-purpose knife, careful not to touch the leaves themselves, wrapping it in a bit of waxed tissue paper. "There you are, sir. Merry Christmas."

"And to you," he answers, handling his new treasure gingerly. He pays her with exact change.

On the street, he pulls his jacket close around him against the wind. Bits of snow fly into his face as he walks quickly around the corner and down a street to his door.

After the noise and commotion on the street—the normal Christmas traffic, good-natured and aggressive—the quiet of his apartment is a blessing. The cat mews and brushes its head against his leg. He runs some water into his teapot and sets it on the stove to heat.

It is silent but for the sound of the water just beginning to steam. He flips on the radio—something classical and joyful. He turns it off. The water, boiling, lets out its shrill call for attention. He chooses a teabag—running low again, but this time it will not matter—and pours water into a mug. Sipping the tea and stroking the cat's head, he decides. It is time now. It has been too long.

He rises, upsetting the cat. Scooping it up, he goes into his bedroom, closes the door, pulls down the blinds. The cat watches, enthroned on his vanity, as he moves around the room lighting candles. He will do this the old way, one last time.

There can be no mistakes. This is the only chance he will have, for this day is unlike any other.

Pushing a chair to the side, he opens the closet door with effort. A bit of dust falls. He reaches inside to pull out his last link to his wife: her mirror, silver and untarnished still, though coated with a layer of dust. He wipes it clean with a bit of cloth, slowly, carefully, reverently.

There is no fresh spring here, and has not been for a long time; water from the tap will have to do. He pours it into the mirror, gently. The soft sound, as he closes his eyes, makes him think of her, as it always does. This time will be different, he promises her fiercely. This time he will do it. He will not turn back.

He leans over the silver basin. His hair falls forward, obscuring his view. When he pulls it back—

She is there, looking at something beyond him. He cannot tell what it is, but he does not care. It is enough to see her again, after all these years. He drinks in the sight of her, one hand drifting to rest on the basin's edge, inches from her face.

She looks younger, less wearied, more joyful. He is reminded of the way she looked when they first met, ages ago. The gold in her hair shines more brightly; the silver less. It is fitting, he thinks. There is still sorrow in her eyes.

Her gaze shifts. She looks straight at him, into his eyes, and smiles a smile of pure joy. He blinks—she cannot see him—and another walks into his view. He forgets to breathe. So like her mother, like her daughter—it has been a very long time since he has seen this face.

His wife is speaking, head bent with her daughter's, silver hair mingling with gold. She laughs, turns, welcomes three figures more who approach. One takes the silver-haired one in his arms; the others, identical and perfect, come to stand on either side of their grandmother, to greet her where she sits.

She is happier than she has been in a very long time, he can see even from this great distance. Yet he knows what she still lacks. Two who shall never return; but one… yes, one who may yet. She turns toward him once more, and he sees the truth: she has never stopped hoping.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out the leaves he has bought and nearly forgotten. Tearing them apart, he drops the pieces one by one onto the water. They float there as the image ripples and disappears. He holds the last leaf for a moment in his hand, thinking; he rewraps it carefully and stores it in the pocket.

It is time.

He scoops up the cat, ignoring its protest. It is proof of his connection to this world that he does not wish to be parted from it, but he will not have to leave it behind. This much, at least, will be granted to him: to make this final journey with a companion.

There is nothing he will need, but for a warm cloak and his almost-finished book. The last sentences will be written on the Sea; it is fitting. Reaching into a deep drawer of the desk, he draws out a packet of parchment, which he lays carefully on the mantel. Those who need to know will understand.

The door closes behind him with a final-sounding click. He walks briskly, the cat curled beneath his cloak, snug and sheltered from the wind and snow. The dock will be closed for Christmas, but that has never mattered. He knows one harbor that is always open.

The shipwright meets him in silence. There is nothing to be said. He boards the ship—a small one, meant for one passenger and one trip.

He meets the straight road at dawn. With the sun rising at his back, he sails home. And in his pocket, the leaf of mistletoe reminds him what is waiting for him there. The cat purrs his contentment, and Celeborn smiles. It is fitting.

Author's Note: Wishing you and yours a joyful holiday season and a Happy New Year.