An Everstone Harvest
Lim yawned and stretched as far as his arms could go. He rubbed his sleepy eyes and blinked at the sunlight coming through the window. Then his brain kicked into gear and he jumped out of bed with a shout.
It was Harvest!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lim snatched open his wardrobe and grabbed his shirt and trousers. He quickly dressed and, leaving his orange pajamas – the ones with the black bats – in a heap in the floor, he raced from the room. He flew through the kitchen, grabbing an apple from the scrubbed-wood table, and out the door.
The air was crisp and sharp, as only Harvest air can be, and Lim paused long enough to breathe great lungfuls of it before shouting with glee and racing down the lane. He had to get to the market square, he just had to, to watch the preparations for the evening's festivities.
Lim slid to a stop in front of Hanar's house. Adella, Lim's friend and comrade in mischief, was racing toward him from the other direction.
“You won't believe the costumes Finna's been sewing,” she gasped, blue eyes blazing with excitement and black hair tousled from the wind. “Come see.”
Lim didn't have to be told twice. Together they raced up the cobbled street, waving a quick good morning to Hanar as he stepped out his front door and gathered up a pile of wood.
Lim stared in open-mouthed amazement. Finna had created a veritable Harvest paradise in her small shop. Witches, ghosts, and goblins hung from every available hook, their ghoulish faces leering in the morning sun.
“Wow!” was all he could say.
“See something you like?” Finna asked.
“All of them,” Lim said before he could process the question.
Finna's husky laugh penetrated the amazement in his brain.
“Sorry,” said Lim
“That's quite all right,” Finna chuckled and tousled his light brown hair.
“Come on,” Adella urged. “We'll see them some more later. At the festival.”
“Oh, yeah.” Lim had completely forgotten the festival preparations. “Bye, Finna,” he called as he and Adella hurried from the shop.
“Where're you going?” shouted Thorin, a lively boy with skin the color of cocoa and coppery eyes that sparkled even in the dark.
“To the market!” Adella shouted as she and Lim raced past the turn off to Thorin's home. “Come on!”
Thorin joined the race, and the three children were soon out of sight with only the sound of their laughter to show they'd ever been there.
The market square was a hive of activity and noise. Dvalin and his wife Aerinndis had closed down the pub and were erecting large tents here and there. Karita and Maeva, both daughters of prominent merchants, were carving jack-o-lanterns and laughing merrily. Even Rathsvith, the old cobbler with bad eyesight and a twisted leg, had come to help prepare for the Harvest celebration.
The three children stood in silence, unable to take in so much activity.
“My mom's making cookies,” Thorin said at last, his voice barely heard above the cacophony. “Lots and lots of them.”
“My mom's making pies,” joined Adella. “Apple.”
Lim dropped his head. His mother had died of a lung ailment two winters before, and his father had soon followed. The kindly miner Bombur had taken Lim in, and Lim loved him dearly, but it wasn't the same.
A booming laugh broke through Lim's sadness, and his eyes regained their sparkle. Bombur!
“Lim!” Bombur called.
Lim raced to Bombur's side, looking up into his smiling face, and was soon flying as Bombur grabbed him and tossed him up before crushing him in a giant bear hug. Lim laughed and wrapped his small arms around Bombur's massive neck.
“Staying out of mischief?” Bombur asked.
Lim nodded and told Bombur all about the costumes at Finna's. Then he whispered, “Thorin's mom's making cookies, and Adella's mom's making apple pies.”
Some of the twinkle left Bombur's eyes as he revisited the pain of losing his closest friends. “Well,” he said, “we're chipping in with the meat and ale like always, but I suppose we should throw in something special.”
Lim held his breath and waited to hear what the 'something special' was.
“You up to a run over to old Astalon's?”
Lim shivered. Astalon was a human. The only human in Everstone. And he wasn’t even a real human. He was a wizard. Some of the adults trusted him like he was one of them, but Lim had heard whispers, as small boys do, and he was afraid.
“Now, don't be shivering just because Astalon's a human. He's also got the only fireworks in these parts since old Laurin's never bothered to learn how to make 'em.”
Bombur placed Lim on the ground.
“And while yer at it, tell that old wizard to bring his hiney to the celebration. He's been hiding in his hole for nigh on three hundred years. It's time he climbed out of it.”
“Yes, sir,” Lim responded and forced himself to smile. But he was still afraid.
Adella and Thorin bounded down the lane. They paused now and again to admire patches of pumpkins wrapped in scarves of green vines and tender leaves, but Lim held back.
“Come on!” Adella shouted as they passed the last house on the lane and headed across the meadow toward the Everstone Mountains. Astalon lived just at the base of the largest mountain, his closest neighbor the dwarf wizard Laurin.
“Astalon's house is up against the mountains,” Thorin whispered.
Neither Lim nor Adella responded. Something about the place demanded quiet. Perhaps it was the closeness of the mountains. Or perhaps it was because it was away from the bustle of the village. Lim wasn't sure. What he did know was that he didn't want to make a sound.
“I don't like it here,” Adella said with a shiver.
“Me, neither,” answered Lim.
The children moved quietly through the tall grass. An elk grazing in the shade of nearby trees raised his head to look at them then returned to his meal. A hawk cawed overhead before disappearing into the mountains, but, otherwise, all was silent.
“You knock,” Adella whispered, elbowing Lim in the ribs.
“Ow,” he complained. “No, you do it.”
“Babies,” Thorin sneered. He stepped up to the door and gave it three quick raps.
The door opened with a creak and a squeal. Lim grabbed Adella's hand, not caring if she thought he was a baby.
“Ah, young ones,” greeted a booming voice.
Lim quickly let go of Adella's hand. It was only Laurin, the wizard.
“Hey Laurin,” Thorin greeted. “We've come to see Astalon.”
Laurin stepped back from the door. “Well, it's his house. Come on in.”
Thorin led the way into a dark corridor. He looked back with an expression that challenged Lim and Adella. They, of course, had to follow without fear.
They emerged into a cozy room with a cheery fire and red, comfy chairs. Astalon sat in one of the chairs, a large book on his lap and a pleasant smile on his face. From up close, he didn't look scary at all.
Adella gave Lim a gentle nudge, and he stepped forward. “P...Please, Mr. Astalon, sir,” he said. “Bombur sent me. He wanted some fireworks for tonight, and he wanted you to come to the Harvest celebration.”
Astalon leaned forward and placed the book he was holding on the table in front of him. “Does he now?”
Lim nodded, but his hands were shaking.
“Well, I think I've got just what he'd like laying around here somewhere. I was experimenting with some new colors just the other day.”
“So that was what all the booming was,” Adella piped up.
Astalon laughed, a full, hearty sound. “Most likely.”
“So, you'll bring the fireworks?” Lim asked.
Astalon nodded. “Of course. Bombur's been after me for years to join in the celebrations. This year, I just happen to have the time.”
Lim stammered his thanks.
Astalon nodded. “Now, you three'd best be running along. I've got to get those fireworks ready, and I'm sure you have preparations of your own. Costumes, perhaps?”
“Oh, yeah!” Lim had forgotten. “We'd better get back.”
The children waved farewell to Astalon and Laurin and took off back across the meadow and down the lane. They passed Dvalin's pub and Rathsvith's shop and arrived out of breath at Finna's door.
“You know,” Adella said. “Astalon isn't nearly as scary as I'd thought.”
Lim agreed. “I just hope he brings the fireworks.”
The light ceased to shine and shadows crept across the land. Animals quieted, and a spooky chill filled the air. The children of Everstone gathered in the square, dressed as goblins and ghouls, witches and mummies. Emla had chosen a witch’s outfit that looked like candy corn, and Suthri had chosen to wear a mummy's wrappings. Lim had finally decided on a monster outfit, while Adella and Thorin had chosen to be ghosts.
The adults, too, had dressed for the occasion. Karita and Maeva danced with some of the young men, their long hair braided with leaves, while Ashilondis, an elven jester, danced and did somersaults. Laurin was in his normal garb of red pants, white shirt, and black hat, but he sent fire shooting from his fingers, almost like fireworks. Laughter pervaded the air, and good cheer surrounded all there.
Lim laughed with the others until he noticed Astalon sitting alone. He bounced over to the old man, a bag of candy and cookies in his hands. “Hello, Mr. Astalon,” he greeted. “Aren't you gonna join the party?”
“Oh yes,” Astalon said with a sad smile. “It'll soon be time for the fireworks.”
“Well, why aren't you dancing with everyone else?”
“It's not something you'd understand, little one,” Astalon responded.
“Is it because you're the only human? 'Cause Ashilondis is the only elf, and she's having a great time.”
Astalon smiled again, looking into the sweet face of innocence. “Perhaps you're right, young Lim. Perhaps I have mourned my former life for too long.”
“Come on, then!” Lim laughed. He took Astalon's hand. “Let's go get some of Adella's mom's apple pie. It's great!”
Astalon laughed and followed Lim into the crowd. Bombur greeted him with a hearty handshake, and Dvalin presented him with a mug of ale. Aerinndis pointed him to an overladen table of food, and soon others were speaking to him as well.
“Lim!” Bombur called.
Lim raced to Bombur's side and looked up into his kindly face.
“Ready for those fireworks?” Bombur asked.
“As soon as Astalon finishes his plate, we'll get him on it.”
“Oh, I think I'm ready now,” Astalon said, appearing beside them with a plate of food in one hand and a mug of ale in another.
“All right!!” Lim shouted. “I'll help.”
Blooms of red and green, purple and gold lit the night sky. The adults clapped while the children squealed. Food was consumed, and people danced. Lim laughed and danced with everyone else, and he realized he was glad that Astalon had come to the party.