Spring passed into summer, and summer became fall, until a boy of fifteen could hardly see over the edge of cornstalks, and the wheat looked full and golden. If a stranger would have come through he would have seen lots of people starting to harvest– and would have wondered what was wrong with this one family, why they weren’t harvesting. The truth of the matter was, Kaänawe– or Kaäne, as the family called him– and Borlin should have been harvesting for quite some time, but Kaänawe could never bring himself to harvesting until he had celebrated Deiwyn’s death, and since she had died on September 13, the two of them were always late starting the harvest.
Maybe celebrated is the wrong word, because you could hardly describe a day of sitting still and eating only cold left-overs from the day before a celebration. But somehow Kaänawe became so overrun with grief on this day, that he couldn’t even care for himself, let alone his sons. So in the early years Borlin and Farlin did their best to sit still and not make noise, and just generally to stay out of the way.
Then when Borlin turned ten, he woke up early in the morning and made a picnic lunch of bread, steak pies, broiled potatoes, mushrooms in chicken gravy, and cherry cakes, and put it all in a basket. He then went and woke up Farlin, helped him dress, and carried him many miles to the north of their farm. They spent that day playing in the field, swimming in the river, enjoying the good food, and remembering. Farlin had been just a baby when his mother died, but Borlin remembered. They came back later that afternoon, and Kaänawe was still sitting in his chair by the fireplace. He never asked where they had gone, but every year since the two boys went off on their own to make the day festive.
Of course, Mellaura didn’t know anything about all of this. One day after supper she asked, “Kaäne, shouldn’t you and Borlin start harvesting that hay? It’s getting late in the year, you know?”
A long silence. No one dared to say anything. Finally Kaänawe said, ”Deiwyn died September 13. We never harvest anything before then. Somehow it doesn’t seem… fitting.”
”Of course, you’re right, I completely forgot about that. So what are we going to do to celebrate the day?”
Another long silence. ”The boys usually go out for the day. A picnic of sorts, I think. Mellawyn is welcome to join them if she would like. You too.”
”What I always do. I will remember her in my own way – here.”
That night a storm came through, probably the worst Mellawyn had ever experienced. At least it seemed worse, out here with no other farms close by. The thunder roared, the rain pounded, and a lightning bolt struck not a half-mile from the house, and split a sappling in half. In between the thunder rolls Mellawyn could hear muffled conversations below, in Kaänawe’s bedroom where he and Mellaura now slept.
‘Kaäne, I really think-” Mellaura said before she was interrupted by a loud burst of thunder.
When it subsided Kaänawe was still answering: ”-doesn’t seem fit, *** it, it just doesn’t-”
This went back and forth for at least fifteen minutes. But Mellawyn couldn’t really follow the conversation, what through the creaking sound of the wood, the pounding of the rain on the roof, and the booms of thunder. Finally she gave up and tried to go to sleep.
The next morning was September 12; at breakfast, Kaänawe seemed quieter than normal. Finally he asked Borlin: ”When you guys go off together, what do you do? What were you planning on doing tomorrow?”
Borlin looked nervous, afraid Kaänawe might get offended at so much fun on so serious a day. But he had to tell the truth; Kaäne knew him too well to believe a lie. ”Well, we usually pack a good lunch and lots of snacks, and go off to Mama’s special place, you know, up on the river a bit. And we just play around, and sometimes we swim in the river. Then in the afternoon when it gets hot we just lie under the trees and talk about Mama. You know Farlin never knew her, so there’s lots for me to tell him.”
They all looked at Kaäne, looking for some kind of a response. After a long moment, a smile crept across his face. “Well, it’s been raining so hard it won’t be safe to swim. And if it’s going to be worthwhile, we’d better start cooking.”
So that settled it. The garden was already harvested, but Mellaura had a special job for Farlin and Mellawyn: “Berries,” she said, “and lots of them. All the types you can find. Tomorrow will be a day to remember.” So out they went, and by the time they came back it was lunch time. And a good lunch it was, light and cheery and full with the smell of good foods, but not a taste of the fresh breads and treats they smelled; that was for tomorrow.
After lunch it was off with their clothes and into the beds for all three of them: for Mellaura wanted to wash all of their clothes. But ten minutes later Mama popped her head back into the attic, and said, “Borlin, where did your father go?”
“I don’t rightly no; he just said he had business in town.”
“The town? What kind of business would drive him to go there?”
“I really don’t know; he didn’t say.”
“Well, this certainly is a bother. I was counting on him to haul the water and keep the fire going.”
“Oh, I can do that; don’t worry.”
“But then how will I wash your clothes? You’re not wearing your good suit to haul wood and water.”
“Oh, don’t worry; Kaäne has another old set of clothes; I’ll just wear them.”
Some time later, but still well before sunset, Kaäne came back and pulled the cart around to behind the barn. More than a few minutes later he came into the house.
“Now, where have you been, Kaäne?”
“Just getting a surprise for tomorrow. You’ll see.” And that same hesitant grin he wore yesterday. “Mellawyn, did I ever tell you — your hair reminds me so much of Deiwyn. You remind me so much of her. Maybe tomorrow I can tell you more about her.”
And tomorrow finally did come. The sun woke Mellawyn, probably the first time since she came to the country that she was allowed to sleep in that late. When she finally opened her eyes, Borlin was sitting on the corner of her bed.
“So you finally decided to wake up, Sleepy-head. The sun’s been up near an hour longer than you, and now it’s time to race it. Your mother just ironed your dress, and papa brought back good blood sausages from town yesterday. Can you smell it?”
“I smell it. Is that the surprise?”
“Ay, and more’s where that came from! Hurry, get dressed now.” And he left her to her work. Twenty minutes later she came down the attic stairs.
“Where’s the sausage?”
“So your cousin told you about that? They’ve already left for the field, with the sausage. Hurry, now is the time to run!” So they ran across the field, until Mellawyn was so tired that she was sure she would fall over from pure exhaustion. And just at that moment Mellaura scooped her up in her arms and carried her across the field.
“Oh, this is good! I haven’t run like this since I was a little girl, not much taller than you, Mellawyn. `Twasn’t lady like they said. But today we run.” So they ran until finally they saw Borlin sitting under a tree smoking a pipe, and Kaäne and Farlin setting a table laid with a bright table cloth, putting out platter after platter.
When Borlin saw them coming, he set down his pipe, produced a bronze horn, and sounded it. Suddenly Farlin and Kaäne snapped to attention, and Mellaura stopped running.
“Mistress Mellawyn,” Borlin said, stepping towards them, “do you know what today is?”
“Why, it’s September 13, of course, the day your mother died,” she answered.
“And the day you entered the world. Eight years ago today. And anniversaries are important things. Today, we celebrate not only Deiwyn’s death-day, but Mellawyn’s birthday as well.” And he clapped twice.
Farlin walked forward, carrying, a bit sheepishly, a simple garland. But as he approached, Mellawyn saw that it was not just any weeds, but a circle of beautiful orange field flowers. “This is for you, as you are queen of the day. Kneel, please.” And Mellawyn knelt on the grass, and Farlin placed the flowers on her head.
Mellaura then walked over to the table and picked up a single book, a handsome volume, green leather with gold thread to bind it together, and pages of the finest silk. Mellawyn took it anxiously and opened to the first page, but was surprised at the strange letters staring back at her. “Mama, I can’t read this.”
“Of course you can’t, not yet,” Mellaura replied. “It’s Elvish, a language of a great people who live far away. But you will learn; for it is high time you started your education.”
“In a school? With boys?”
“Of course. Where else?”
Borlin said: “And now, Mellawyn, for my gift. I do not know you like my brother does, and I don’t really understand girls at all, so I’m at a loss for what to give you. But tell me what you wish, and I will do it, if I can.”
Mellawyn thought for a moment, and then her face lit up, then fell again. She looked at her mother unsure. “I couldn’t ask… it’s so… boyish.”
“Mellawyn, what are you talking about?”
“Well, it’s what Mithrandir was always doing. And we just saw Borlin doing it just now, so I know he could teach me, but it’s … Borlin, could you teach me to smoke a pipe?”
Whatever Borlin had expected the princess of Gondor to request of him, it surely wasn’t a bit of pipe lessons, judging from the look on his face. Mellawyn had no way of knowing it, but Gandalf’s smoking caused no small controversy in Minas Tirith, because it was not only a vulgar habit of men alone, but poorer men at that, certainly none who would live higher than the Fourth Circle. Borlin lit a pipe every now and then, but Kaäne largely forgave it, seeing as Borlin hadn’t had the advantages of a mother or a civilised upbringing. But for Mellawyn… completely out of the question!
But slowly a sly grin crept across Kaänawe’s face. “Any habit that is good enough for your famed Mithrandir is good enough for my niece. Borlin, you will start Mellawyn’s lessons this afternoon. I hope you brought weed enough?”
“Well, I suppose, but – “
“You did say any wish within your power, didn’t you? Well, it is now within your power. Now, Mellawyn, there is one gift left, and that gift is mine. If you’ll just look over on the other side of that hill, over near the river, you’ll find a surprise.”
And what a surprise! They all climbed the hill, and looking down, Mellawyn saw a giant oak tree. The hill dropped off to a giant cliff, and down past the cliff, growing out over the river, that tree stood, and on each limb a beautiful hair ribbon attached to a small treasure! Treats ranging from penny candy to the finest toffee, a stuffed bear, and then stranger still, pieces of rag all bunched up, and yet other sculptures that Mellawyn could not identify, all brightly coloured.
“Those are called fireworks, Mellawyn. They are from your friend the wizard. Supposedly if you light a fire to those strings at the end they explode into a thousand colors. But he warned me to wait until tonight, so you could see them better. Don’t worry there’s plenty more of them back with our gear, and those odd bits of cloth too. Them … Well, that is another mystery. We’ll need a bit of water for that one. Farlin will you run and get some water. From that pool, near the dam up there.”
They all climbed down the hill to get a closer look at the tree. Farlin took the small bucket and filled it with the good clean water, and started to come back. But Kaäne’s and Mellaura’s eyes were fixed not on Farlin, but on the dam behind them. Where there had been one trickle before, now there were two or three, and suddenly four and then five. Farlin must have upset some stone or other, because the dam was going to break any minute. Borlin without being told, rushed up to Farlin, grabbed him, threw him up on the bank of the hill, pulled himself up, and ran for rope. They might need it. Meanwhile, Mellaura was able to climb up the bank by standing on Kaäne’s shoulders, but just barely–the bank was much higher here. She couldn’t reach Mellawyn to pull her up, let alone help Kaäne.
“Quick,” Kaäne shouted, “get rope.”
“No time. Look– the dam’s about to break! Climb that tree. It’s strong, it will last.” So the two of them quickly scaled the old oak, seconds before the dam broke.
In ordinary weather that tree might have stood. But with all the rains it didn’t stand a chance; Kaäne saw that as soon as he had climbed it. From that high up, though, he could also see Borlin coming, with two cords of rope.
“Hurry, son! The rope! Throw it here!” Borlin threw it twice, and missed, but on the third time, Kaänawe caught it, and tied the first rope to a branch. Borlin pulled the rope, pulling the tree toward the shore.
Mellaura tied the second rope high on the trunk of a nearby tree, and threw the other end to Kaänawe. Kaäne gave the rope to Mellawyn, who used it to swing into Mellaura’s waiting arms. With Mellawyn safe she turned to Borlin.
“I’m not strong enough to catch Kaäne. Here, let me hold that rope, I can hold the tree tight, but your father would knock me over and swing right back over that river, maybe fall in.” So they switched places. Slowly Kaänawe inched forward on the branch Mellaura was holding close to shore and was about to jump, when suddenly they all heard a loud crack as the branch gave way. Suddenly Mellaura was not holding onto a steady tree, but onto a loose branch and a full-grown man, pulled down stream by the flood. She didn’t stand a chance.
Borlin was standing in shock, as he saw his father float down the river and Mellaura with him. And then he saw one thing more: a little girl dive into the water, after her mother.
That woke him up from his shock, and before he knew it, he was down the shore, with a long branch. Somehow Mellaura, holding Mellawyn, was able to grab the branch, fight the current for a few seconds and it looked like they just might win. But then the branch gave way and, with a large crack, broke in two.