A Harvest Time Tale
My bones creak and I find that I groan every
time I stand up, but the harvest has been brought in, small as it is,
and the time for threshing is at hand. There are mouths to feed in
Minas Tirith, devastated by the war. I shudder at the thought of it. I
think that is what keeps me from stopping, though my arms are bone
weary from swinging the flail. There have been tails of great loss of
life, terrible suffering, and children dying of hunger. My wheat will
I never thought I would be able to bring the crop in; the scythe was heavier than I had imagined. My strokes were so weak. I almost cried as I tried to imitate my poor husband’s swing. I kept telling myself, side to side then forward, but I would cut too deep and gouge out chunks of the earth or swing too high and miss half of the crop. Then I would have to go back and re-cut what I had missed. I was to the point of tears before I finally got the knack of it. My husband used only light, thin blades, but these were easily broken on hidden rocks. I finally found a sturdier tool in the barn. But I soon realized I had to sharpen it every hour.
I had to drive the anvils pointed end into the earth, lay the scythe blade on the rounded head, hold the concave side of the ''knife" away from me with one hand and hammer with the other. I discovered I had to beat gently along the cutting edge to stretch the metal outward until it was thin and sharp again, else the blade would ripple and I would have to start all over again. Of course, I carried a whetstone in a can of water to sharpen in between times. I found these quick sharpenings to be a pleasant break. Passing the stone over—and then under—gave my hands respite from the pummeling they were taking. The gentle rhythm of the motion was soothing to my soul. Finally, I had to put away the stone and grab the scythe’s shaft and swing. And swing. Interminably long swings. I know it would not have been as tedious if the blade had been truly sharp, but I could not sharpen it any better. I used to think I was a strong woman; now I know better.
I will not tell you how my hands look. The girls cried the first night. Witch hazel helps the swelling. The drought did nothing to our bush; its great red leaves are the only things that seem beautiful now. Thankfully, we had just laid up a supply of the medicament before starting the harvest. I find that I cannot sleep for the pain, but we are almost finished. I can hold out another day or two. I know I can.
Berthil and the boys always did the major part of the harvesting. It is late in the year to be doing this. I had thought they would be with us. The drought did not help. I thought we were going to lose the entire crop, but Berthil, wise in the ways of the earth, foretold the drought and planted less so that those plants that did survive would have enough water. The crop was short and stunted, as he had expected, but it was better than tall, dead wheatgrass. He told me, before he left for the war, to fertilize only once, to keep the growth rate down. ‘Crops that grow too fast are thirsty crops,’ he said.
My heart stops as I think of my beloved husband and my two sons lying in graves somewhere on the Pelennor in front of the Great Gate. Though apropos, I suppose, for him to be buried in the fields of Gondor. Surely, did not he live his whole life in the fields! I can almost see him, in my mind’s eye, swinging the scythe back and forth and then forward, singing songs of Gondor. His strong clear voice could be heard almost to the barnyard. Once in awhile, if the wind blew just right, I could hear him as I prepared supper in the kitchen. My heart would lift, my chin would raise, and I would feel tingles over my arms at the thought of the man. A doughty man indeed. Hair as black as a raven’s and arms as wide as a fence post. And just as strong. Smile as bright as… I have work to do. There is no time for remembrances this day. Perhaps, when the harvest is complete, I will sit back on my rocker and remember.
The girls have brought in the stooks and we are in the barn, all three of us, flailing away, beating the daylights out of it. ‘There is a knack to it,’ I tell the girls. ‘You cannot beat too hard for you would break the kernels, but you cannot beat too softly; the wheat must be separated from the straw.’ We make our own flails every year from two large willow branches. We connect them with a rope through holes drilled through their ends. If you are not careful, you can seriously hurt yourself, especially if you let go the one end. The girls have managed to hit each other at least three or four times and I am afraid we will soon have one of them in serious tears, if they are not careful. I take my littlest, my Almarian, and show her where to stand so that her sister’s flail cannot reach her. This is only her third harvest; she is doing well. Their father would be so proud. Only six and seven, yet so eager to help me.
Finally, the sun has gone down and the lamps are lit. We will stop now. The little ones are tired and so am I. We walk to the house, hand holding hand holding hand. Selfishly, I wish my mother were still alive, for she would have the meal on the table and ready for us as we came in from the fields. Good brown bread, lots of butter, warm stew filled with potatoes and carrots and meat. Fresh milk. My mouth watered. There would be none of that tonight. Well, nothing hot.
I took the bread and sliced it. Almarian yawned as she spread the butter over the pieces. Moriel cut the dried meal and placed it on the bread. At least, we have fresh milk. I wish the supper were better, more, but this is all we have. We stand and face the west, offering our thanks and then sit. Almarian’s eyes are almost closed. Poor sweetheart. My heart aches for her. I admonish myself. I too helped with the harvest at her age. But never did I have to do so much. Always, the men were there for the harder parts.
Tomorrow, we will sieve the straw out and then separate the wheat from the chaff. That is the fun part. The children love throwing it up into the air and watching the wind take the chaff and see the wheat fall to the ground. Unfortunately, more straw ends up in our hair and eyes and down our backs then blown away, but it is truly delightful work. Or it would be if I were not so tired. The harvest has taken too long. All the other farmers will have brought their wheat to the mill. There will be no one left to buy what we bring. I gently rock Almarian as the heavy thoughts weigh my shoulders down.
There are only embers left in the fireplace. The room is turning cold. I pick up my little one and carry her to her bed. Moriel is sleeping by the fireplace. I do not even remember when she fell asleep. Perhaps I had been sleeping myself. I pick her up and place her next to her sister. Ah… my heart clenches. Their hair the same color as Berthil’s. I kiss them, cover them and walk back into the parlour. Parlour. ‘Tis to laugh. Not really a parlour, but a comfortable room nonetheless.
I cannot bring myself to go to my own bed yet. I am not used to the great emptiness that awaits me there. I walk to the kitchen, clean off the table and let the tears fall. No one can see me. I remember harvest times from years past. How I loved the coming together of family to help. I had to share my bed with two aunts. At least I did not have to sleep on the floor like my brothers did. Every space in the house had a body lying somewhere sleeping. Such laughter, such joy filled the air as the bounty of our farm filled our larder. I need to fill my heart!
Harvest time used to be my favorite time of the whole year.