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A Time to Reap
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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30
Raise the Song of Harvest Home

The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home. – Henry Alford 1844

With very grateful thanks to Raksha who co- wrote this chapter with me.


~~~

It rained lightly during the night; Aragorn and Faramir slumbered peacefully, sheltered by the mighty oak. They slept through cockcrow and only awoke when the sun streamed through the branches causing their damp blankets to gently steam.

The two friends arose rather stiffly and made their way to the centre of the village where the country folk were eating breakfast. “It promises to be a fine day for the celebrations,” said Tasariel greeting them warmly. “The air feels nice and fresh after the rain. I have your clothes ready for you.”

“Thank you, Mistress,” said Aragorn. “How fares Thoron?”

“Well enough, I believe,” said the village healer. “I was not summoned during the night.”

“I had better rouse him ere I eat,” said Aragorn.

“How did you make him sleep so soundly?” Tasariel asked curiously.

“It is another gift of my line,” Aragorn explained. “I am able to send a patient into a healing sleep, but it is very difficult for another to rouse them from it.”

“Well, I suggest we tend this young dragon ere he awakens,” the healer suggested.

Thoron looked rather pale, but when Aragorn and Tasariel examined the sleeping boy, they found no trace of fever, his pulse was steady and the gash on his leg was clean, and already starting to heal, somewhat to Tasariel’s astonishment. “Another of your special gifts?” she queried when Gilrath’s back was turned.

Aragorn nodded. ”Indeed so, mistress.” He told Tasariel quietly. He then turned to Thoron’s mother. “It gladdens my heart that Thoron will still be able to support his family. I was concerned for them. Your son will soon be well and should be able to leave his bed later," he told Gilrath. "He will need rest and good food for a while, but his leg should heal completely.” He lightly brushed Thoron’s eyelids with his fingertips, then retreated outside, leaving the cantankerous youth to Tasariel's and his mother’s care. Tasariel joined him a few minutes later.

“Thoron is clear-headed, hungry, and in a very bad temper!” the village healer informed Aragorn. “Maybe I should not have told him that he can borrow the breeches you are wearing until his own are clean and mended!” Her eyes twinkled mischievously. “I will bring your clean garb and some washing water to your hut. Leave your linens for me to wash when I next go down to the stream.”

Aragorn joined his Steward outside their hut. A few moments later Tasariel appeared with their clothes while her neighbour carried a jug of steaming water for them to wash in.

Faramir and Aragorn bathed, then thankfully changed into clean linens and their own tunics and breeches. It was blissful to have well-fitted clothes and breeches that did not threaten to fall down with every step they took!

Breakfast was a cheerful affair. The villagers boasted of the bounty of their yield over that of other villages. Long-married folk teased some of the youngest men and women about upcoming weddings. The children could not contain their own excitement over the imminent ceremony, devouring their food like ravenous puppies, occasionally earning parental displeasure when they tried to instigate battle with the wooden forks, and constantly jumping up and down from their benches to visit each other. Harvest was the highlight of the rural year, when country folk allowed themselves to eat drink and be merry.

While the men folk gathered in the last few remaining sheaves, the women and elder children decorated the barn where the grain would be stored throughout the coming months. Aragorn and Faramir helped hang decorations: hearts and circles woven from the corn and adorned with ribbons, on the high beams at Tasariel’s instructions.

The women and children argued loudly about who would be the king and queen.

“Would Thoron have been a likely candidate?” Aragorn enquired. “It seems that he works hard to support his family.”

Tasariel laughed. “That young braggart! Not likely! We always choose someone who has proved as fertile as we hope the land will be.”

“I think Pelendur and Emerwen will be chosen,” said a woman. “Still, it is for the elders to decide who will be honoured.”

The barn looked magnificent when the decorations were completed. Tasariel explained to the visitors that it would be left like that during the winter months to honour Yavanna and fend off evil spirits.

The decorating continued outside. Even the trees nearest to the centre of the village were festooned with wild flowers, a colourful array of cornflowers, buttercups and daisies. It was a perfect day for the festival, sunny but not too hot.

At noon, a group of barefoot maidens garbed in somewhat well worn dresses of Yavanna's green led the villagers to the oak that had sheltered Aragorn and Faramir during the night. A makeshift platform had been constructed beneath it, set atop bales of hay, on which the village elders now stood. All the folk of the village, from infants to the oldest greybeard, wore their finest raiment, with sprigs of flowers pinned to their tunics at the throat or over the heart. Their freshly scrubbed faces were aglow with happy anticipation.

A hush of expectation fell over the villagers as Borlach stepped foreword. “People of Celonhaer,” he began, “our village has suffered many hardships and losses this year, but today we can rejoice. Thanks to Yavanna's grace, rain has come in time to bless us with a bountiful harvest. As always, the village will crown a king and queen as chosen by the elders. This year’s queen was not an easy choice, as many of our women are strong of heart, fruitful and fair; but we have decided on a lass loved by you all, Vanreth daughter of Garathon!”

The people cheered loudly. Hareth was weeping tears of joy.

Aragorn and Faramir exchanged smiles. Vanreth’s devotion to her child and courageous insistence on seeing the dead spider had greatly impressed them. They were curious now to see who would be chosen as king. “Maybe it will be Finrod?” whispered Faramir. ”He seems a decent young fellow.”

“I would guess Pelendur,” said Aragorn. “These people prize fruitfulness highly and the young man will soon become a father.”

Borlach raised his hand for silence. “The choice of a king was much easier,” he said. “Surely this man was sent to us in our hour of need by the Valar, though alas, we were slow to see his true worth! Without his good counsel, there would be three less of us here to celebrate this day, while without the valour of this man and his son, a foul monster would still threaten our people. Master Morrandir of Minas Tirith shall be the King of our Harvest!”

The villagers cheered and clapped. Faramir leapt to his feet in joy and embraced his friend. Aragorn sat stunned for a moment unable to take it in. Vanreth smilingly approached him, her hand outstretched. ”They are waiting to crown us,” she said.

“Go, ada, the people await their King!” cried Faramir, embracing his lord in delight.

Aragorn and Vanreth made their way to the platform. There, Tasariel awaited him, holding out a circlet of golden stonecrop entwined with ivy. Aragorn bent his head, allowing the healer to place the summer crown upon it. Tears pricked his eyes, as he rose and looked out upon the cheering faces. This meant far more to him than these people would ever know. They had chosen him as their King! This time it was not the heir of Elendil who had been chosen by right of birth, but Aragorn the man!

“Let the King and Queen perform the planting ceremony,” Borlach announced as Tasariel crowned Vaneth with a circlet of the bell-shaped mallos blossoms, also golden, and leaves of clover.

At a gesture from the headman, two children, a boy and a girl, brought forth the two large corn dollies.

“The King will now bless the corn,” said Tasariel.

Aragorn could not resist a smile. He had often been asked to perform a similar office both as Chieftain and King. “Gracious Yavanna, Queen of the Earth, Giver of Fruits,” he intoned. “We, thy children beseech thy blessing upon thy bounty. May the clouds yield forth rain, and the earth bring forth fruit that they children may want not. We praise thy blessed name!”

The villagers looked rather surprised at such eloquence and chapped and cheered loudly.

The little girl reverently took a corn dolly to the barn, while the boy handed the other to Aragorn and Vanreth. The Harvest King and Queen carried it between them in solemn procession to the nearest field. Tasariel and Borlach led the way.

Faramir remembered a Westron hymn to Yavanna he had learned in his youth and started to sing. Many of the people knew the tune and joined in.

A deep and recently dug hole, surrounded by bunches of flowers, gouged the earth. It looked suspiciously like a grave. “Now is come time for the King and Queen to make the sacrifice on behalf of the people,” said Borlach in a slow, steady voice that carried across the crowd. Tasariel pulled a sharp knife out of a fine leather scabbard at her belt.

Faramir, who stood just behind Aragorn, looked alarmed. His hand went to his sword. “They cannot mean to kill you!” he whispered in horror.

Aragorn shook his head. ”Peace, son of my heart,” he whispered. “They have a similar custom in the North. It has its roots in an older, darker tradition, but I have never been any the worst for it!”

“They never made sacrifices at Dol Amroth!” Faramir protested. ”We scattered a handful of grain and that was all!”

Two other children, a boy and a girl on the edge between childhood and youth, came to take the corn dolly from Aragorn and Vanreth, and held it in front of them. The young woman was already calmly baring her arm. Aragorn did likewise. Faramir stood quietly in a warrior's stance, legs slightly bent, hand gripping his sword-hilt, poised to defend his lord.

Tasariel raised the knife and with it made a very small cut in Aragorn’s forearm and then did the same to Vanreth. She raised their arms so that a drop of blood from each fell upon the corn dolly. “The sacrifice is made! The land will bear fruit!” Tasariel cried.

The two youngsters reverently laid the corn dolly in the earth, while Tasariel bandaged the King and Queen’s arms.

“Long ago they would sacrifice a man and a maiden, or so Elrond told me,” Aragorn explained to Faramir. “Now a few drops of blood suffice in remote country areas where the custom continues.”

All the villagers helped to cover the corn dolly with the rich dark soil. The people then returned to the village in a cheerful mood.

“The King and Queen of the harvest will now lead the dancing,” Borlach declared. A young man produced a reed pipe and played a merry tune.

Aragorn looked rather hesitantly at his “queen.” He only had one true Queen. As he thought of her, he was seized with a sudden longing that he had not felt in months. He hastily collected himself and turned his attention back to lady he must dance with now. He supposed Arwen would understand that that this was merely a custom of Lossarnach. After all, Aragorn had danced with Lothiriel, and Arwen with Éomer, at the wedding of the Lord of the Mark. And Vanreth's husband Finrod seemed to have no objection, the man was smiling as he held his young son in his arms. The little boy was fascinated by his mother’s crown of flowers and followed her with his eyes.

Aragorn faced the Harvest Queen with a small fire, bordered by stones, between them: a part of the festivities in both North and South. They bowed heads slightly, to show respect without loosening their crowns. Then King and Queen clasped hands and trod the ancient measures of the Harvest Fire Dance, faster and faster to the quickening pipe notes, until they finished with a high leap over the fire. Aragorn and Vanreth stood apart, her left hand lightly holding his wrist, their other hands held high as if to entreat the sky. The villagers whistled and roared their approval.

Aragorn returned the somewhat flushed young woman to her husband. He was about to sit down when Tasariel approached him a gleam in her eye. “The Village Healer has the right to claim a dance with the King!” she said.

“It is my honour, Mistress,” replied Aragorn. They owed much to the lady, and he felt it would be churlish to refuse her. He clasped Tasariel's weathered hand and joined the others in a slower version of the Harvest Fire Dance, dancing in a huge ring with the fire in its centre. Only the Harvest King and Queen were allowed to leap the fire, which would be extinguished before the night ended.

Faramir meanwhile danced with one of Thoron’s sisters, a girl of some fourteen years. The women had their pick, for after so many years of warfare, the fairer sex greatly outnumbered the men folk. Many women either danced with one another or sat and watched. Faramir noticed the speculative glances given him and Aragorn by some of the widows and maidens. He was careful to treat each one as if she was his Aunt Ivriniel, who was a spirited and graceful dancer.

The music then changed to lighter, jollier rhythms. Groups of men and women formed lines and circles, thus ensuring no one was omitted, and began to step in and out with quick, merry kicks between linked hands. Despite weeks of exhausting labour in the fields, the villagers danced joyfully and seemed never to tire. Faramir noted that even the youngest of children, toddlers barely able to walk, merrily circled about in time to the music, their steps guided by older sisters and brothers. The older children danced with each other, save for a few of the twelve-year-olds, who were brought to dance with their adult kinfolk. Of all the young men, Thoron alone did not dance. The youth sat still, his injured leg propped up on a footstool. Borlach's eldest granddaughter, a lass of about eighteen summers, attended Thoron, bringing him wine with a soft smile. For once, Thoron looked content, and was seen to smile back at the pretty maiden more than once.

The dancing continued until sunset, circle and line dances yielding to the Flower land Reel that had been a favourite in Lossarnach since before Ecthelion's Stewardship. Tasariel insisted on a dance with Faramir, while Hareth danced with Aragorn. Then the men and older boys, bearing beribboned staffs, began the whirling turns of the Bucks' Dance.

The women and children left the men dancing, while they slipped away to bring out the food which they had taken turns to prepare since the morning. They laid it on the tables, keeping a watchful eye open to keep insects away. Soon, three trestle tables were laden with platters and bowls. Faramir's mouth watered as he surveyed the fare: warm loaves of crusty bread, giant cheeses, mushrooms simmered in wine, carrot pudding dotted with dates and currants, and one of his own favourite dishes - "Dragon Eggs", eggs stuffed with cheese, raisins and herbs. And that was just the start! The women had also laid out river trout cooked in butter and parsley, rabbit in broth, chicken roasted with apples and chestnuts, and a stuffed roasted pig!

Aragorn took his seat at the head of one table with Vanreth at his side. Faramir was also given a place of honour together with Tasariel and Borlach. Tasariel insisted on heaping Faramir's plate with additional portions and encouraging him to eat, much to the amusement of her sons and daughter-in-law. Such kindness was welcome, though barely needed. Aragorn and Faramir ate until they thought they could eat no more; and quenched their thirst with the famed pale golden wine of Lossarnach. They loosened their belts as the tables were cleared. The women then brought seed cakes, pears soaked in wine and honey, and apple fritters fried in batter and cinnamon.

The company ate and drank and told tales until the full moon was high in the sky. From his days as Chieftain, Aragorn knew what was expected of him and glad he had kept a clear enough head to fulfil his duties. He rose to his feet. ”Gracious Yavanna, your bounty has blessed us abundantly tonight,” he said in a loud clear tone. “May Anor and Isil smile on our labours throughout our planting and reaping. May the land and her people be forever fruitful! May we sleep well tonight under Isil’s protection!”

The villagers clapped and cheered. Faramir heard one old woman say, “How lordly Master Morrandir is, he is the best King we have had in many a year!” Tears welled up in Faramir's eyes even as he beamed with joy. Little did these country-folk know how truly they spoke! He could only hope his reactions would be attributed to the wine.

Aragorn and Vanreth rose from the table to signal the end of the feast. The villagers slowly began to disperse.

“We thank you for your hospitality,” said Aragorn to the Village Elders. “You have made us most welcome.”

“The coming of you and your son has been a blessing,” said Borlach gravely. "Without your foresight and aid, Vanreth and her babe would have been buried untimely and suffered horrible deaths. And the evil thing that struck them would still live, to kill more of our livestock and our people!"

“And it is not every night I can dance with the King!” said Tasariel, still with a twinkle in her eye.

Aragorn and Faramir made their way to their favoured spot under the oak tree and spread out their bedrolls. Faramir was slow to settle and tossed restlessly.

“Whatever ails you, lad? It is time to sleep!" Aragorn enquired rather tetchily.

“My stomach aches,” Faramir confessed, rubbing his stomach ruefully. ”I cannot get comfortable.”

“Little wonder, given the amount you ate!” Aragorn replied. “It seems Mistress Tasariel made good her word in feeding you up! Come here, then, and I will try to ease you.” He held his hands a few inches above Faramir's stomach.

Faramir, who simply expected Aragorn to use a gentle Elven healing touch, gave a cry of surprise at the amount of heat emanating from Aragorn’s hands. The pain in his belly swiftly subsided.

“What is the matter?” asked Aragorn.

“I have never known your healing power so strong!” Faramir exclaimed.

“I was again crowned King today,” said Aragorn thoughtfully. "I intend to preserve some of the flowers from my crown." He yawned loudly and settled under his blanket.

Soon, a gentle wind seemed to kiss the trees good night, leaving a hooting owl as the only creature to cry out under the heavens. King and Steward slept peacefully side by side, their sleeping forms illuminated by Isil’s gentle rays.

TBC

~~~

CO-AUTHOR'S NOTES: I was inspired in my conception of the villagers' circle dance by the descriptions in Wikipedia dot com, of the "horo", a Bulgarian dance with many patterns of diverse steps that can be danced in a circle or a curving line of people. I envisioned the Harvest Fire Dance as sort of a cross between a sword dance and parts of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring ballet (only without the human sacrifice at the end!).

The Flower land Reel is a dance of my own imagination; inspired by Tolkien's mentions of the flowers of Lossarnach. It is based loosely on the Virginia Reel, and much too complicated to describe in any detail. I'm not sure exactly what the Bucks' Dance is, except that men do it, is noisy and necessitates strength and skill, has some fertility implications, and probably involves twirling and thwacking of staffs.

The villagers' harvest feast menu is inspired, once again, by the descriptions and recipes at gode cookery dot com, a wonderful website for medieval and renaissance food.

Any errors or misconceptions about the dancing and country cuisine are of Raksha the Demon's devising, please don't blame Linda.



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