All day and night the twin bonfires had burned. At midnight, they had roared and leapt high as a man. Now as the ragged edge of dawn showed in the east the flames had slumped down into embers, but the air above them still shimmered with heat.
Merry and Pippin sat on the hillside sharing a blanket, the dewy grass cold between their toes. The constellations had faded into the paling sky; only the morning star lingered just above the serrated edge of the White Mountains. It had taken most of the night for the herds of Edoras - every horse, cow, and sheep - to pass between the needfires for luck. Now the animals had been driven back to their folds or turned out on to the open grassland for the summer, and the valley was nearly silent. The hobbits no longer had to shout over the low drone of cows and sheep, punctuated by the sharp high squeals of excited colts.
Most of the people were gone as well. The young Rohirrim who'd vied with each other to see how high they could leap over the sinking flames had long since paired off and vanished into the night. The mothers who had carefully passed their babes over the embers for luck had gone home carrying chunks of smouldering wood to rekindle their own hearthfires. A few were still dancing, the King of the Mark and his Queen among them. The violets and blue mountain columbines that starred Lothiriel's unbound hair were slipping out one by one to lie strewn on the grass behind her. Two or three giggling children darted among the dancers like sparks, brandishing red-dyed horsetails on tall poles.
Pippin yawned. "I can't believe they started those huge fires with only a bow-drill. What's wrong with flint and steel, anyways?"
Merry shrugged. "All Eomer would say is that it's 'how things are done' for this festival. If Eowyn were here we might get a plain answer."
"It's an impressive sight, all those animals passing between the fires," Pippin said. "Perhaps we should do the same to mark the season at home."
Merry laughed. "There aren't so many herds in the whole Shire. A few cows and ponies and a flock or two of sheep wouldn't have the same effect."
"Do you think the fires are low enough for us to have a go now?" Pippin asked.
"Ah, you could jump farther than that if you had to. Remember Moria?" Merry teased. Pippin cuffed his ear lightly, Merry pushed back. In the course of the playful scuffle turned shoving match that followed, the hobbits tumbled the rest of the way down the hillside. At the bottom, tousled and grinning, they got to their feet and stretched muscles stiff with chill.
Merry brushed dirt and grass off his breeches and eyed the charred logs, glowing cherry-red. "Ready, Pippin?"
"Good luck, Meriadoc Brandybuck; may you be blessed with increase, as Eomer says." Pippin winked.
"The same to you, Peregrine Took," Merry said. "A Thain needs a large family, you know."
"One, two, three--"
Clasping hands, the hobbits jumped together. Sparks scattered in the light of sunrise.