The World of Men: 3. Feast

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3. Feast

We give thanks to the Eru, the One on this day, for in his grace he has given us nourishment. Rain and sunshine in their measure so that all things may grow and flourish.

 

 

- The Dúnedain's harvest feast prayer.


Carastar, Yáviérë 2951


Aragorn woke slowly, limbs sprawled wide, wondering for but a moment where he was. The springy horsehair mattress supporting him seemed to have no limits as his toes neither pressed against tightly tucked covers nor stuck out into the cold.


He looked out of the open shutters, spotting the familiar sight of Earendil with the Silmarillion as he made his journey across the sky. The animals of the night were still calling to each other, and the air in his room had cooled, the drapes fluttering softly in the autumn breeze. Sighing contentedly, he snuggled closer into the covers. From his position he would have a perfect view of the sun rising. And home lies in that direction. No, my home is now here!


His eyes drifted shut again as he enjoyed the peacefulness of the moment.


Someone knocked sharply on the door. Aragorn's eyes opened and he squinted directly into the sun flooding the chamber through the open window. He sat up, regretting the missed sunrise.


"Good morning, cousin, time to rise," a cheerful voice called from beyond the door. He thought that he recognized the high cadence.


"I am awake. Come in, if you must, the door is not bolted." He called.


A few moments later Haldor appeared with an ewer full of water clutched in his arms. "You forgot to fetch the water yesterday, so I thought I would be a good cousin and bring you some." With a hefty splash, he poured it into the basin, then placed his burden on the table and took a seat on the large chest. "But you have to fetch it yourself next time. We have no servants here, you must know."


Aragorn gave him a dark look. "Really? Thank you. Without your help, I would never have guessed it."


"I hope you had a good rest? You slept long." Haldor continued, a huge smile on his face and not at all intimidated.


"Someone is not in the least inquisitive," Aragorn countered, getting up and pulling a pair of trousers on. "But if you need to know, I rested well this night."


"Ah, that comes from the hard work you did yesterday. First the journey and then the fields. You are aware of the fact that everybody has been talking about it? That you worked amongst us meant more than you realize. Some of us feared that you were too finicky after being raised by elves and would not care how we survived as long as food ended up on the table," Haldor blurted out.


Aragorn looked down on the youth, wet towel in hand. He clenched the cloth in his fist and some of the water dripped on the floor. The last remark stung a bit, but he decided not to comment on it. I will show them that I am one of them and willing to work as they do. "And you are cheeky as well."


"I am only speaking my mind."


"So you can surely tell me what is planned for today? We are celebrating the harvest, do we not?"


"Yes, today is the thanksgiving feast. It is an old custom that I think goes back to Númenor. On this day all the village comes together to honour the One for giving us nourishment. And it is a day of joy as well. There will be a lot to eat, music, dancing, singing and the telling of tales. We have all been looking forward to it since the day after last year's feast." The boy beamed, "You can be sure that you will be the center of attention. It is very convenient that you arrived when you did. I almost wish you had come at some other time, for I would have liked to have two celebrations.


"Yes, I suppose so," Aragorn answered distractedly while washing his upper body and face, the cold water making him shiver. He shooed Haldor away to access the contents of the chest. When he opened the lid, his eyes fell immediately on the green shirt he had stored there yesterday evening and he stroked the rough material, but eventually he chose one of his own. The cream coloured material the shirt was much finer than his father's. When he looked up, he saw that Haldor had made himself comfortable on his bed. Aragorn frowned at him.


"You know," Haldor remarked, "that if I had so much space at my disposal I would feel like a king. Do you feel like a king?"


Aragorn halted, thinking about it for a moment. "Since you are asking, no, I do not." He decided to play along. "For one, a king has servants to attend to him rather than cheeky, inquisitive kinsmen who ask too many questions too early in the morning. Come, get up from my bed," he ushered him out of the room and and closed the door behind them. Realizing that his heart felt much lighter this morning, he smiled. "I think that I am starving. And for another, in order to be a king you have need of a kingdom. It is a sad fact, there is no such thing within few hundred leagues. However, I have become accustomed to the thought of being a Chieftain."


"It would be an honour for me to help renew the kingdom of Arnor."


"Yes, but not, I pray thee, before breakfast. Will you lead the way?"


***


After breakfast, the woman busied themselves with cooking and making the decorations, while the men went outside to prepare the square for the festival, setting up many tables and benches for the feast.


Aragorn looked up from fastening a long seat onto legs and asked Baragund, "On the way here Gildor and Hirgon seemed worried. Something about more men?"


Baragund lifted and eyebrow. "More men?"


"Gildor and Hirgon quarreled over the patrols. I do not know if you are the right man to ask, but I think that your answer might give me a clearer picture than I would get from either Gildor or Hirgon. Do you know something about it?"


Baragund drove the last bolt home, then laid his hammer on the table. "Not much. You are lucky to have heard anything, for they tend to avoid each other if it is possible, and when they meet in public they are cool and polite. I am not not a member of the council, and it is hard to say what is going on in the council chamber. But of course one hears things." Baragund paused for a moment, obviously collecting his thoughts. "The two have always had their differences and Hirgon does not like the fact that Gildor has been the acting Chieftain for the past eighteen years. Because he had been your father's best friend and lieutenant for many years, he wanted this office for himself. Most of the captains were of the opinion that it should go to Gildor and that was it. Above all they argue about the western patrols."


"How so?"


"Hirgon wants to draw the men back from the Bree-lands and the Shire to better protect the Angle. Gildor says it is ridiculous to leave them unguarded and that we should remember our old oaths. The problem remains. We do not have enough men to patrol everywhere. Gildor tried to solve part of it by using younger men to patrol the areas closer to the village. This is why we saw Haldor out there yesterday. He is still a child and not yet skilled enough, but Gildor does not see it."


"He woke me this morning. I found him to be a bright and inquisitive lad and eager to be a ranger. He is only four years younger than me and I have fought with Elrond's sons for more than five years now. He should be fine when he is supervised."


"So you think it is a good idea?"


"I did not say it is the same for everyone. It depends on the person."


They placed the bench behind the table and Aragorn looked up. With the help of many hands they had erected all the tables and benches which the woman had already begun to decorate.


A woman with a little child on her hip joined them and curtsied awkwardly. Baragund greeted her with a kiss and turning to Aragorn introduced them as his wife and son.


"Our Círion here has been fussy all morning and I had to scoop him up to prevent him from running into the decorations," Baragund's wife said. "He is growing heavy, I fear. I have things to attend to and need my hands free. You, on the other hand, seem to have finished. Will you take him for a while?"


Baragund said he would and lifted the small boy high into the air before placing him on his shoulders. Círion squealed with delight and held tight to his father's hair.


"Your son is very charming, Baragund," Aragorn remarked. "How old is he?"


"Two and a half years and already a little devil. But I love him more than I ever thought possible."


He reached up and tickled his son who gave a shriek and cried "Ada!".


They began walking towards the table where jugs of various drinks had been placed.


"Is he your first child?"


"Yes, Círion was born in the second year of our marriage. But it is sad that he has so few comrades to play with. We do not have many children here in the Angle, and people like Araneth and Gildor with their four children are the exception. A part of the problem is that the men are away so often that they do not have much time to produce offspring. They are now thinking of giving married men more time with there families. It sounds reasonable to me, especially because I would benefit from it. Would you support this?"


The situation is so bad? Aragorn could not voice his thoughts on this, though, because they had arrived at their destination and were greeted by a few men already standing around the table and enjoying the refreshments. One-handed, Baragund fumbled with the cord of the mug that hung from his belt and placed it on the table.


"Apple cider for Círion up here," he announced. The men laughed and Beleg poured some in the mug, then handed it to the boy and made sure his grip on it was secure.


"Are you already practicing for your own little ones? I have heard it is going to be twins, is it not so, Beleg?" Ingold teased him.


"Your wife is pregnant?" Aragorn asked.


"Yes and yes, my Gilmith is pregnant with twins," Beleg answered proudly. "And you have no right to tease me, Ingold, for you are not even married."


"Hear, hear," Baragund voiced his opinion. "Go and do something for our population, instead of teasing those who do." The men laughed, then stopped as they saw Gildor approaching.


"Ah, there you are, and already enjoying yourselves," Gildor said by way of greeting as he came up to them. "And Círion as well. Good day, young sir."


"Good day to you," the boy replied proudly and laughed, almost dropping his mug. Aragorn took it from him and placed it back on the table.


Gildor laid a hand on Aragorn's shoulder. "I wish to talk to you for a moment." He led him out of earshot of the others.


"We wish to introduce you formally after the ceremony. Perhaps you could say a few words to our people."


"But what should I say to them, uncle?"


"What comes to mind. How glad you are to be back and how much you have missed them."


"But I did not have a chance to miss them."


Gildor made a dismissive gesture. "That does not matter. Lesson one, tell them what they want to hear and they will be content."


"But if I want t gain their trust, I cannot pretend something I do not feel!"


Gildor shrugged. "You are an honest person, but very young yet. There are many things you still have to learn, including the fact that sometimes speaking the truth will put you in danger. Or if you reveal too much, you might put others in danger. Not here, but the world is wide and full of perils. Speak what comes to mind."


Gradually people assembled and took their places on the benches that were arranged in a semi-circle. Gildor led Aragorn to the chair of honour and took his place on the bench next to him. They waited until all had quieted down, then Gildor stood up again and cried in a voice that could be heard by everyone present,


"Who has come here and what do you want?"


"The Dúnedain have come here," Araneth replied and walked regally past the many tables towards her husband, then halted in front of him."And we want to do honour to Eru, the One for this harvest."


"And what have you brought?"


"We have brought fruits of the field, Lord." She turned around. "Bring forth the gifts."


At this four woman stepped forward, each of them carrying a huge basket in her hands. One contained vegetables, the others fruits and corn, but in the last lay freshly baked bread and cheese. They placed them on the table erected for the purpose and curtsied.


"We give thanks to Eru the One on this day," Araneth continued, "for in his grace he has given us nourishment. Rain and sunshine in their measure so that all things may grow and flourish. We are thankful for the new lives of our children and beasts. The blessing is not forgotten."


"And this year we are doubly blessed," Gildor spoke again, "for returned to us, is a man who has been sorely missed for the last eighteen years. Let us greet our Chieftain and Lord, Aragorn, son of Arathorn and welcome him back amongst his people."


Now all present began to clap their hands or rap their knuckles on the table while shouting Aragorn's name.


Gildor, who had sat down, tapped him on the shoulder and gestured for him to stand up. Aragorn's stomach tied itself into a tight knot, his palms felt clammy and his heart hammered as he stood up slowly. The noise died and all looked expectantly towards him. He was only too aware of the fact that he had never given a speech before. It was very quiet. He closed his eyes for a moment and cleared his throat. How could I ever lie to them? Never.


"My dear people, I thank you for the welcome you have given me. It gladdens my heart to be here again and speak to you on this day of celebration." He paused for a moment, searching for the right words. "Long have you laboured without me by your side, but now I am returned to where I belong. From now on I will live amongst you, in good or bad, plenty or poor, sunshine or rain, I vow that I will never forsake ye. Long live the Dúnedain."


All were still for a moment, but then a clear voice shouted, "and long live the Dúnadan!" Others joined in, and soon all were shouting the blessing. It went on for many long moments before the feast could begin.


"Short, but to the point," Gildor commented after Aragorn had taken his place, "do you see how they delight in every word you speak to them? I counsel you to talk to them whenever an opportunity presents itself. Learn their names, and those of their relatives. Ask them how they are faring and show them that you care for every one. In exchange, they will love you for who you are."


Many baskets were now brought out and everyone helped themselves. Aragorn bit into an apple and watched Halladan who sat further down the high table. He had not seen his cousin the whole morning. His expression was grim as he ripped his bread into little pieces. The young man presented a puzzle he desperately wanted to solve, but he did not know how.


As Haldor had predicted earlier that day, entertainment followed the meal. Aragorn did particularly enjoy a play that the children of the village had learned and were now proudly performing.


In the late afternoon a singing contest began.


The first performer was an elderly man who had brought a lute with him.


"Dear Lord," he began, "The Minstrel I am called, but Mardil is my name. Others may be the wielder of swords, but I am the wielder of words. This I can do well with my wooden leg." The crowd laughed. "What will I tell ye? Now this is the question. 'Tis a new song, never heard before, for I wrote it for this day in honour of our Lord returned and of the harvest." He strung his lute and began to sing in a clear, deep voice.


Come, sons of summer, by whose toil
We are the lords of wine and oil :
By whose tough labours, and rough hands,
We rip up first, then reap our lands.
Crowned with the ears of corn, now come,
And to the pipe sing harvest home.


Come forth, my lord, and see the cart
Dressed up with all the country art :
See here a maukin, there a sheet,
As spotless pure as it is sweet :
The horses, mares, and frisking fillies,
Clad all in linen white as lilies.


The harvest swains and wenches bound
For joy, to see the hock-cart crowned.
About the cart, hear how the rout
Of rural younglings raise the shout ;
Pressing before, some coming after,
Those with a shout, and these with laughter.


Some bless the cart, some kiss the sheaves,
Some prank them up with oaken leaves :
Some cross the fill-horse, some with great
Devotion stroke the home-borne wheat :
While other rustics, less attent
To prayers than to merriment,
Run after with their breeches rent.


Well, on, brave boys, to your lord's hearth,
Glitt'ring with fire, where, for your mirth,
Ye shall see first the large and chief
Foundation of your feast, fat beef :
With upper stories, mutton, veal
And bacon (which makes full the meal),
With sev'ral dishes standing by,
As here a custard, there a pie,
And here all-tempting frumenty.


And for to make the merry cheer,
If smirking wine be wanting here,
There's that which drowns all care, stout beer ;
Which freely drink to your lord's health,
Then to the plough, the commonwealth,
Next to your flails, your fans, your fats,
Then to the maids with wheaten hats ;
To the rough sickle, and crook'd scythe,
Drink, frolic, boys, till all be blithe.


Feed, and grow fat ; and as ye eat
Be mindful that the lab'ring neat,
As you, may have their fill of meat.
And know, besides, ye must revoke
The patient ox unto the yoke,
And all go back unto the plough
And harrow, though they're hanged up now.


And, you must know, your lord's word's true,
Feed him ye must, whose food fills you ;
And that this pleasure is like rain,
Not sent ye for to drown your pain,
But for to make it spring again.



The audience applauded and Mardil bowed in each direction.


"An excellent performance," Gildor praised him after the noise had died down. "The other performers will be hard-pressed to match you."


Ten other people joined the contest, some singing old lays, and others singing their own songs. After the last had finished, all performers stepped forth again and bowed.


"Our Chieftain who, after being raised by the elves," Gildor began, "surely has a sense of music. My lord, will you, as your first act of your office, proclaim the winner of this contest?"


Aragorn smiled, an idea forming in his mind. "Nay, dear Gildor. I think I will I ask my dear people who pleased them most."


The people clapped their hands, and shouted for Aragorn to declare The Minstrel the winner. Araneth handed Aragorn a wreath, and as he placed it on Mardil's head, merry, twinkling eyes met his.


***


The flames of the bonfire rose high as the musicians unpacked their instruments and began to play a merry tune, calling many dancers to the centre of the square. Aragorn remained seated, content to watch. A flushed Míriel approached Aragorn and extended a hand.


"You have not yet danced, cousin, we are waiting for you."


She pulled him out of the chair and he had no other choice but to follow her. She led him to the people that were waiting in pairs for the dance to begin.


"The Tîlagor!" One of the musicians cried and the dancers hooted.


Aragorn leaned down and whispered, "what is going on?"


Míriel laughed. "You do not know the Tîlagor? What did they teach you in Imladris? The musicians have just challenged us. It is a contest between the musicians and the dancers. Their aim is to play so fast that we cannot keep the rhythm."


They took their place at the end of the row of dancers and Míriel gave him her left hand. Then the music began. At first the music was slow enough to give Aragorn the chance to learn the steps. They were easy to memorize, twice four steps forwards and four back, then hook the elbow with that of the lady and make half a turn. Aragorn began to enjoy himself as the music became faster and faster and the steps more difficult to follow. They whirled around and Aragorn laughed in joy because he felt more alive than he had for many days. Finally Míriel stumbled and he caught her, but they had lost the rhythm. The music stopped. She gave a dazzling smile and dipped her head in gratitude, then curtsied with the other women.


"Victory!" The man with the drum shouted and clapped his hands, "the dancers lose. We are faster than their feet." The pairs bowed before the musicians in acknowledgment of their craft.


Now more women appeared at Aragorn's side, urging him to participate in a round-dance around the bonfire. They drew him into their midst and he felt accepted and welcome.


When Aragorn ran out of breath, they finally allowed him out of their clutches. He spied Ingold, Valacar and Baragund standing amongst a group of several men and wandered over.


"You look a bit winded. I took the liberty of fetching your mug and filled it for you," Ingold said, pressing it into Aragorn's hands. "Did you enjoy the dancing?"


"The maidens he danced with certainly did, for they had only eyes for him." His brother added with a big grin. "I swear that you made all of them blush, and the older ones no less than the younger. I think you have a way with the women."


Ingold elbowed him into the ribs. "That was uncalled for. Do not embarrass our Chieftain."


Valacar held up his hands and laughed. "This day you may blame the ale. Forgive us our behaviour. We will be grim again in the morning."


I doubt it not. I feel surrounded by grim faces. I wonder what my fate will be. They remained silent for a while, watching the dancers whirling around to the merry tunes and their laughter ringing clear in the autumn night.


"This is what we fight for," Baragund sighed and made a sweeping gesture that included all people present. "We fight to provide a safe haven for our families, for the smiles on the faces of our children, for days like this that make us forget, even though it be for but a moment, the evil lurking at our doorstep." He lifted his cup and nodded towards the others. "To life."


"To life," Aragorn returned the toast and drank deeply from the cool ale in his cup.


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Vilwarin

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 11/28/07

Original Post: 08/13/06

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