Lughnassad, a Tale of Reward




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A man labored in a large bare field, chopping and turning the earth with a crude metal blade attached to a long stick. He wore a simple tunic, with a cord around the waist. The sweat dripped from his brow, and the Sun moved steadily westward as he worked. Evening was at hand, and he was exhausted, hungry and thirsty, but he labored on, hoeing the hard earth until it was too dark to see.

The man's name was Halekern, and he had worked this field for many years. This year, though, things were different. It had begun late last autumn, when sickness had taken four of the other villagers. Then came a strange winter, wet and mild. The stores of grain the village had kept for the winter became moldy and foul, and much of it was lost. It would be a cruel season, with little bread to eat and with memories of the untimely deaths shrouding the village like an overcast sky. Halekern came to understand that with less grain to plant in the spring, and fewer able-bodied men and women to work the fields, the village might not survive another year.

Urged on by a sense of great need, he worked through the wet, dull days of winter, clearing small trees and brush from his land, expanding the size of his grain field threefold. His muscles became tight, and his body grew lean from the hard work. His own field had always been one of the most productive of the village, and by enlarging it he hoped to grow enough grain to fend off the starvation of his fellow villagers the coming year.

Now at last, spring had come, and he was preparing to plant the last of the seed grain. He read all the omens and consulted the wise women, he studied the phases of the Moon and he tested the wind each morning, until he knew the planting time had come. Everything must be perfect this year. Too much depended on it.

With the aid of his sister and her sons, the tilling was complete and the grain was planted. Restlessness now, with no task to fill his waking hours, Halekern waited anxiously.

Days passed slowly, and at last the grain began to sprout - green shoots dotted the field. They were beautiful, the clearest green he had ever seen, strong and vibrant.

Then it came. A great storm blew across the land, out of season. The dark clouds churned like smoke. Then came the lightning and the deafening peals of thunder. Rain would be welcome, thought Halekern, but something about this storm frightened him. The rains came heavy and hard, as though an ocean were being drained onto the land from on high. The waters came rushing over his newly cleared field, where no brush now stood to slow its passage or channel it away. The waters raged, dark with mud, sweeping up sticks and small stones and carrying them away in the flow. Halekern took shelter in his small cottage and watched all his work drowned as swept away in the flood. His face fell into a countenance of deep sorrow, pain mingling with hopelessness.

After that, he seldom left his house, and he spoke with no one but his sister. He ate little, and became frail. They would all die soon, he knew. He had failed. His family and neighbors had put their trust in him, given him their hopes. And now, all was in ruin.

The seasons wore on, the chill winds of spring giving way to summer's still heat. The field lay cracked and bleached, a reminder of the tragedy of the great storm.

Halekern lie in bed one morning, drifting in and out of sleep, when a knock came on his door. That was unusual; the villagers had long since learned to leave him alone. "Go away, please," he said, trying to sound forceful, put the words came out sounding very sad and distant.

"Forgive me," came a woman's voice in answer - a voice Halekern did not recognize. What was the meaning of this? At that moment, something brought a small surge of life back into his body and spirit. The newness of her voice took his mind away from his village, his field, and his grief. It reminded him instead of his youth, and the simple optimism with which he had approached each day.

Halekern lifted himself out of bed, donned his tunic, and ran his shaking hands through his tangled hair. One step at a time, he approached the door. "Are you there?" the voice called from outside.

"Yes, I'm here," he said, opening the door slowly. At the doorstep stood a full-bodied woman in a gown of green and brown. Her hair was long and brown. Her face was neither young nor old, but had the beauty of playful joy and somber wisdom, mingled together.

"I came to ask, good sir, whether you will be harvesting the grain by the lake soon - if indeed that is your grain."

"By the lake? That's a wild patch of earth, lady - nothing there but rushes and bullfrogs."

"I'd best show you where I mean, then." She took Halekern by the arm and led him from his dark cottage. The two waked together, over the cracked earth where his field had been, and through the hedge at its boundary. Although his legs were weak, he felt strong and healthy with her arm around his. There was something very settling about her presence, like the warmth of a smoldering hearth on a cloudy day.

When they passed through the hedge, Halekern saw a waving field of yellow grain, stretching all around the small lake that he had seldom visited since his boyhood days. The grain was full and indeed ready for harvest. "I don't know how this came to be here," he said. I planted my fields this spring, but they were washed out in a terrible flood."

"Water does flow downhill," said the woman with a smile. "And from everything we do comes a harvest, even if it is not in the place we expect to find it."

Together, the two walked to the village and spread the word. Soon all the villagers were working to harves the grain, and by nightfall the warm, sweet fragrance of freshly baked loaves filled the air.


Seasons of the Goddess is a regular feature of Starweaver's Gems from Earth and Sky

Copyright © 2008 Tom Waters