PART 6 - Chapter 1 - The Harvest
It started on a day like any other—a day that brought about the crowing of a rooster and cries of bread hawkers.
A woman arose and washed with water from an iron pot that had been set outside the night before, wiping away the sleep and refreshing her tired eyes with a gentle caress of the water. She smiled at the iron pot expectantly, knowing that today was the day for the summer-harvest festival. Oh, it would be such a grand festival—all the food, wine, and young men. What more could a woman with youth and beauty want?
The villagers from all around would be attending the festival with their sons who were looking for able-bodied and voluptuous wives to bear them their own sons to inherit family farms or businesses. She was no different from the dozens of other young women who wanted to marry a healthy, stable, and wealthy husband. Wanting to provide the progeny of generations that would bring either blessings or denunciations to a family name was a natural desire of them all, as it was with the previous generations that gave the lives and hearts of families and homes.
She brushed her hair, contemplating who would be attending and which families might vie for her attention. Her father and mother had been in negotiations with some families throughout the area to wed her off; however, she was a strong-willed woman who did not want to settle for any man with a pocket full of gold. This stubbornness provided for many angry exchanges between her and her parents that divided them down a line of intergenerational paths that seemed to be irreconcilable.
Humming to herself, she stared out her window, looking across the fields of wheat glistening in their golden richness. The wind blew through the stalks, creating ripples like those on the ocean that give off a hypnotic wave of calm and happiness. She smiled with a sense of pent-up anxiety and expectation while applying her makeup and putting on her best dress that amplified her figure and feminine grace.
The annual harvest season started with the festival of the new moon since time immemorial. The heads of barley, weighed down with plump seeds, ripened to a blue gold, and beckoning to be plucked and milled into the multitudinous varieties of the bounty that only the mouth can discern and appreciate, waved at her as she slowly made her way down a cobblestone avenue toward the festival area.
Singing an old song of the past to herself, she smiled to any onlooker with complete satisfaction, happiness, and calm.
We who bear the children call out
Do not make way for lies and doubt
Of those young and old alike
Do not forsake their loves delight
All men have a mother
All women have a father
Show your love and fear
For both are needed and dear
Life will throw its advantage
Upon a table that is mismanaged
Towards all those embroiled
In greed and selfish despoil
For a mother’s love and warm embrace
Do not forget who birthed your grace
No one can understand the love
Of mothers that birth thereof
It is a mother’s pride
It is a father’s stride
For children to remember
Their parents in the days of ember
We who bear your children whisper
Do not hold your hands as a drifter
Take your time and remember
We who are your family member
Upon arriving at the festival, she milled about, looking for her girlfriends and anticipating their collective enthusiasm and excitement. To her chagrin, tasks took hold of her, parted her from the ecstasy of the festival, and took her to the reality of the day. Chased down by the ghosts of days past, the women of old, she ran with earnest intent back to her home to gather the day’s bread, not knowing the time of seasons to befall her—not understanding the celestial times that would take hold of her and thrust her into a coming period of love lost and joy bereft.
Stepping out of the house and into the day’s sunshine, she shielded her eyes, squinting into the street with an expectation that belied her disbelief of what she saw. Walking down the street with an air of ownership and sitting ramrod straight in the saddle of his most beloved friend was a man of determined stature. The wind blew the mane of his horse across its neck, announcing the arrival of something unknown—something that was sure to divulge fascinating passages of experience and knowledge. She held her breath, not wanting to break the moment, looking intently, and wondering who this could be. Upon catching his eye, she gasped with a sense of expectation, knowing he was not the typical suitor. His eyes looked but did not see. His gaze swept across her with a vision of blindness that told tales of sorrow and loss that belied his outward appearance of strength. Sucking in her breath yet again, she read his history as if the book for it stood before her in all its wonder and glory. That was the man of her dreams—the one that taunted her from the recesses of her mind, beckoning her on toward a future that only the gods could create and foretell.
Since time was of no consequence, the man moved along its river of pools and cascades, not knowing which way to turn for the answers his mind cried for but never received. What was he? What was his purpose? The dust of the day coated his nostrils and the inside of his mouth, creating a thirst that only the cleanest, purest water could quench. Closing his eyes for a moment, he contemplated that town of normalcy, telling tales of harvests generations old. It could stymie the very core of man’s creativity and drive the mind to insanity and beyond. Where was he? What compelled him to come here? The horse seemed to know, stepping along with an intent that only an animal with a sense of direction could invoke.
The sun was hot, causing sweat to drip down off his brow and onto his chin. Reaching up with his right hand, he wiped it away only to inadvertently lock his eyes onto pools of relaxed contemplation. Shadows of calm swept across him, tightening his grip on the day and holding his attention to the reality of time. Focusing, he looked into those pools of blue, knowing in his heart that life had indeed come back. The dawn of hope had entered into his very existence, kicking back the door of despair and loneliness, opening up the possibilities of the unknown.
He nodded his head toward her and carried on his way, looking for a stable for his horse and an inn to refresh his soul from the hard journey. A bath, a beer, and a bed were all he desired at that moment, not wanting anything that would create a future beyond his day-to-day vision. Turning left onto a cobblestone lane, the man and his horse searched for a stable and a tavern. After finding lodging for his horse, the man entered a smoke-filled bar, casting a long shadow across the tables and the men relaxing, playing dice, and drinking. Yes, he had come to the right place. Rooms were down the hall, and he got one for a tenth of a gold piece a night with hot water boiled to perfection for a long-awaited bath for sore muscles and tired eyes. The bath felt like heaven as he slowly entered the water, the warmth of the liquid seeping into every fiber of his being and drawing him ever closer to the sleep that had eluded him for so long now. A moan of complete ecstasy escaped his lips with a sigh of relief as he sank deeper into the water and allowed the heat to penetrate his every pore and cleanse his soul.
He washed away the journey’s dust and filth to emerge with muscles rippling under taut, sunbaked skin. His shoulders flexed as he combed his long black hair, and his chest bulged with strength and desire. Many women had fallen for his chest, his arms that seemed like oak-tree branches, and his legs that were like the roots of a mustard tree, losing themselves in his musk of male complexity. His eyes flashed a greenish-gray blaze of clarity, peering deep into the recesses of anyone capable of withstanding the scrutiny. He was not a man to challenge. Journeys and histories melded together and intertwined to build a character of resolve, compassion, and a sense of longing that could not find resolution no matter what he did—a yearning for answers and to belong to something, to someone, or to somewhere.
He left the tavern after eating dinner and downing a couple of drafts, heading toward the music of the festival that beckoned him toward entertainment and possibilities. As he turned onto the main street of the village, he noticed throngs of people gathered about, calling out greetings and introducing themselves with smiles and laughter that placed the moment in a surreal, almost-unimaginable time of peace and happiness that placed a calm smile on his lips and a glint in his eyes.
While meandering between stalls and looking at weapons, helmets, shields, packs, saddles, and such, he noticed out of the corner of his eye many beautiful women of diverse backgrounds with their dresses swaying to the rhythms of their walks, accentuating their feminine sensuality. It had been a long time since he had felt the warmth of a woman, smelled the sweet smell of a woman’s skin, or heard the soft laughter of a woman’s voice; yes, it had been a very long time.
Looking up, he caught her eye again staring straight into his with a determined attempt to find his gaze. He smiled at her and walked toward her with a casual gait, allowing himself the admiration of men and women alike.
Drawing closer, he bowed his head and said, “My lady, it is but twice now that we have met without introductions.”
“Yes, it is. My good sir, where is it that the sun and the dust have hailed you from?” she replied.
“From journeys too long and times much too distant to remember,” he softly quipped.
“Are you enjoying our harvest festival?” she asked.
“Uh-huh, it has been a long time since I have been to one, and it is a pleasure,” he said.
“If I may ask, sir, what is your name?” she inquired.
“Names are to be earned and relied upon for good and bad, my lady. Perhaps they should be left for another day,” he answered. “Where should I go to inquire about work?”
“The village elders on the other side of the square will help you with the work roster.” She pointed toward a shop that had a sickle hanging from its wall, indicating it as the farmer’s cooperative.
“Thank you, my lady. May you enjoy your evening, and perhaps we will meet again.” He touched his brow and bowed low to indicate his respect for her and moved off toward the farmer’s cooperative, not seeing her eyes of desire, the shallow breaths of expectation expelled from her lips, and the flush of red slowly draining from her skin of perfection.