One Day In Summer
I have been blessed with six children, all growing old themselves now. In turn, they have blessed me with eighteen grandchildren three of whom are about to add yet another generation to our family.
It was my family who wanted me to write a journal of my life. I could not imagine anyone wanting to hear about me. I am but one unremarkable person among countless others in Middle-earth. So, for years I declined even making the attempt.
Now that I have but a short time left on this earth, I find myself spending more and more time thinking of my life, a life that could have been so easily cut short.
I finally decided to write, not a journal, but this story. I'm doing it mainly to honor him, because if it hadn’t been for him, none of my children or my children’s children would ever have been born, and none of the many and varied accomplishments of their lives would have ever happened. Without him, I would never have lived beyond my twelfth year.
Who the ‘him’ is will be revealed at the end of my tale, which begins when I was twelve years old. I am no bard, so pardon me if my story is written in a simple manner.
You may wonder, as you read, how I could remember, after so long a time, the many details I will relate, but you will soon see how indelible this memory has become. You will also see that this is not only my story but his, as well. It was only a tiny moment in time, and his life has been so full of important events that perhaps he will never remember that one day in summer, but I cannot forget it.
I had been swimming in the river not far from my village. There was a small pool formed by sheltering rocks along the shore, where the water was shallow and calm. It was there, and only there, that I was allowed to swim. Under no circumstances was I to go out into the heart of the river. But I was twelve and thought I knew exactly what I was doing, when I ventured out of the small pool and into the flowing water. At no time did I think I would not be in control. The current was deceptively calm, so I would be able to come ashore whenever I chose, or so I believed.
For a while, a very short while, I floated along with the current, bobbing up and down like a cork. It was a glorious feeling. I laughed and splashed and shouted out my joy.
It wasn’t until water began to hit me in the face with increasing regularity that I looked up to see my surroundings, foolishly expecting to be only a little way downstream from the pool.
To my utter dismay, I was swiftly leaving the area I knew so well and was entering a canyon with rock walls that sloped sharply down to the water’s edge. Even had I been able to swim over to them, the rock offered nothing for me to grab hold of to pull myself out of the river.
I also realized that with the narrowing of the canyon walls, the river had begun to flow faster, as the current grew stronger. Large rocks appeared, churning the water even more. I was now being tossed about in white-water rapids.
My previous arrogance of thinking I was in control vanished, and I began to panic, flailing my arms to try and keep my head above the surface. I was only marginally successful.
More than once I was thrown painfully against one of the rocks that seemed to pop up wherever I was headed. I would come to a momentary stop, before being swept up and carried downstream once again.
The roar of the river was deafening in my ears, as my nose and mouth filled with water. I fought for every breath of air I could manage, but my head was beginning to spend more time under the water than above it.
At last my strength gave out, and I began to sink into the depths. I could hear the muffled rapids above me. My body was tumbling like a piece of driftwood, but I had no more energy left to try for, much less reach, the surface and stay there.
Suddenly, I felt something grab me and wrap around my waist. I panicked even more, as I struggled to free myself, but the grip was like iron and much too strong to break. I soon found myself being pulled upward. I remember sucking in air, as my head came clear of the water. I had no idea what it was that had fastened onto me, and before I could investigate, everything went black.
When I awoke, I found myself on my side and coughing violently. When the seizure had calmed, I rolled onto my back, and a hazy face loomed above me. I was not afraid, just puzzled. Blinking rapidly, my vision gradually cleared. The face moved away, revealing a cloudless blue sky far above.
Then, I heard a voice ask, "How do you feel?" It was not a voice I recognized, but it’s tone was gentle and possessed a tone of concern.
I turned my head to see a man smiling at me. It was a brilliant smile filled with genuine relief. He must have known the answer to his question already for his eyes held a knowing look about them. It was the same look I had often seen in the eyes of my school master, though these eyes were more intense.
"I’m all right," I replied timidly, even though I’ve never been considered a shy person.
"Good," was all the man said.
I looked around to see where I was and found that I was lying on the ground at the edge of a forest, and I was wrapped in a long, soft cloak. A small fire spit and crackled nearby.
It dawned on me at that moment that this man must have been the one who pulled me out of the river. But how? Since there was no shoreline, he would have had to jump into the rapids.
After a small coughing fit, no doubt due to all the water I still had in my lungs, I asked, "How did you save me? The cliffs are so high. Surely you didn’t jump from the top?"
The man shook his head, his long, loose and still damp hair clinging to the sides of his face.
"There was a crevice in the rocks. I only had to jump twenty feet or so." His tone made it sound as if that was no great feat for him.
Remembering my manners, I thanked him.
This time he nodded. "I am glad that I was in the right place at the right time to see that you were in trouble."
"So am I." I hoped my voice reflected the immense gratitude I felt.
"When you feel up to it, I will take you home."
"Oh no, you mustn’t. My parents will be very upset with me." I hung my head in shame and lowered my voice. "I wasn’t supposed to swim in the river, just the little pool at the edge of it." I stared down at my hands, not wanting to see the expression of condemnation I was sure would be on his handsome face.
"You are young, so perhaps your parents will not be harsh with you."
His tone had remained gentle, so I finally raised my eyes to meet his, when I said, "They’ll be angry."
He looked at me with that knowing look again. "You wish to return home and not tell them what happened." It was a statement, not a question.
I had the feeling he had read my mind. "If they find out, I’ll have to do extra chores for the next month, if not the rest of my life." Being a child, I think I pouted a little.
His face took on a wistful look. I thought at the time that he may have been thinking back on his own childhood when the same thing had possibly happened to him.
"I think perhaps you have learned your lesson, so if you promise me you will never again swim where you should not, I will let you return home alone and say nothing."
Eagerly, I agreed. "I promise."
He looked relieved, though I don’t think it was because he didn’t want to face my parents. Anyone who would jump twenty feet off of a rocky cliff into a raging river to save a stranger, would not be intimidated even by two upset and angry parents.
Another coughing fit overtook me. This one was bad enough that my rescuer took me in his arms and held me until the coughing stopped. I was so exhausted and felt so warm and safe that I soon fell asleep.
When next I opened my eyes, I found that my outer garments had been retrieved from the rocks by the pool and spread out next to me.
My rescuer was sitting by the fire, running his fingers through his thick hair to try and smooth out the tangles in it. He looked up and smiled. "So you have awakened. Good. It is getting late, and your parents are most likely getting very worried about you."
I sat up quickly. I couldn’t afford to have them come searching and find me here like this. I would have no choice then but to tell them what had happened. "I must be going."
The man turned his back while I dressed, It didn’t occur to me then that he had removed the cold, wet undergarments I had gone swimming in and thus had already seen me without anything on. But, it really didn’t matter. I was too young to think about being embarrassed. When I was finished, I saw that he had put the fire out and was spreading the ashes around with the toe of his boot.
"I will walk you to the edge of your village," he offered.
I shook my head. "It really isn’t very far. Besides, if my parents are out looking for me, they may see us together, and that would lead to me having to confess that I had disobeyed them."
"I see your point," he laughed. "But you must not make a habit of deceiving your parents."
My father had always told me that it was hard work keeping lies straight, and that they almost always came to light in the end, causing more trouble than telling the truth in the first place would have. My guilt was already such that I readily agreed. "I won’t."
I thanked him again and rushed over and gave him a quick hug. Then I headed home. I can’t be sure, but I think he followed me at a discreet distance to make sure I arrived home safely. Thank goodness my parents never found out about my harrowing adventure.
During my life, I thought back on that day from time to time and always wondered just who it was who had saved me that day. It was over thirty years later before I found out.
I married and had children in the intervening years. My family moved to the Gondorian capital of Minas Tirith. We had just settled into a small dwelling on the fourth level of the White City, when we were told about a festival that was going to be held two weeks later. It would be one of the few times that all of the people would be gathered on the large promontory in front of the royal Citadel.
We were excited to learn that we would have the chance to see our king for the first time. We knew him to be a fair and caring man, who loved his people but whose duties kept him apart from most of them more than he would have liked.
When the day of the festival arrived, my family and I made our way, along with the rest of the city’s inhabitants, up to the site of the much-anticipated activities.
My family and I were almost spellbound at all of the wonderful sights and sounds. We strolled around and admired the colorful banners that flew high above the crowd on shiny poles.
When we became hungry, we enjoyed sampling various foods from the many colorful tents set up along the perimeter. Even the clothing worn by most of the people added their own touches to the overall festive atmosphere.
One of the most wonderful things I saw was the fabled White Tree of Gondor. It was covered with beautiful white flowers, and its splendor had to be seen to be believed. It was then that I began to feel that I was a real part of this great city.
It seemed that everywhere I looked, there was something exciting to see. I had never experienced anything like it before, but luckily I was able to do so many more times in my life.
Before we knew it, horns began blaring, announcing the arrival of the king and queen. Greeting their subjects graciously, they moved through the crowd, which parted for the royal party.
A pathway opened up directly in front of me, and I found myself staring at the rulers of Gondor.
Suddenly, my mind could hardly believe what my eyes were seeing. It was him! The one who had saved my life all those years ago stood only a few yards from me.
You are probably thinking that I am referring to King Elessar, but I am not. The one I had been hoping to see again, since I was twelve years old, was walking right next to the king.
"Who is that?" I asked the man beside me, as I pointed to the one I meant.
The man laughed. "You must not be from around here, or you would know that you are pointing to Prince Legolas, best friend to the king and queen."
With his long hair pulled back at the sides, I now saw clearly the pointed ears that had been hidden from me by his loose hair after my rescue from the river. "He’s not a man. He's an elf!" I remember exclaiming, totally stunned by my discovery.
"Yes, he is." The man laughed again, before shaking his head and moving away, no doubt wanting to get away from someone so obviously daft.
The party of three, king, queen and elven prince, followed by four royal guards, were continuing to come my way. I held my breath, as the prince walked directly towards me. I stepped to the side to allow him to pass, though my eyes never left his beautiful face.
When he came even with me, he couldn’t help but see the open-mouthed stare on my face. He smiled indulgently. I‘m sure, as an elf among humans, he was used to seeing such a reaction. Even so, there was nothing forced about his smile. The warmth behind it was genuine. It was the same brilliant smile he had given me when I had awakened after almost drowning, and he had known I would be all right.
I wanted so much to ask if he remembered me, to thank him again, to say something - anything. But it was as if an unseen hand was constricting my throat. No sound would come out.
He inclined his head at me, and then he was past me, moving down the path beside King Elessar and Queen Arwen.
I let my breath out slowly. He looked exactly as he had the day he first leaned over a bedraggled, half-drowned twelve year old. It was then I remembered that, as an elf, he was immortal and would likely change little in the coming millennia, much less doing so in a mere thirty years.
For a brief moment, I felt a little hurt that he hadn’t recognized me. The memory of what had happened had been seared so deeply into my own memory that I couldn’t imagine he wouldn’t remember it as I did.
I quickly berated myself for such a thought. I had been a child then. I was forty two years old now, well into my middle years. I had changed dramatically over the years, so how could I, in all honesty, expect that he could look at the woman I had become and see the young girl I had once been, a girl he had seen for only a brief time.
I watched him retreat, his shoulders squared, his back straight with his long, golden hair flowing down it. He moved with a light, graceful step.
Seeing him was like a release for me. It was suddenly all right that he didn’t see in me the girl he had rescued from the rapids. His identity had been revealed, and that was a long-held burden that was lifted from my heart.
I saw him many times through the years. He was usually on horseback, riding up to the Citadel to visit the king or riding down, presumably on his way back to Ithilien, where he lived and ruled a colony of elves.
A few times I would catch his eye, and he would smile at me, though there was still no recognition in his eyes, not even for the woman among the many he had once seen at a crowded festival. I would simply smile back.
More often than not, though, he looked neither right nor left, as he rode through the city streets, his mind on important matters. Some of the time King Elessar rode with him, and the two would often be laughing together. Their friendship is legendary.
The prince always looked the same. Still does. As handsome and regal as ever. But to me, he will simply be the one who saved my life and by doing so, saved the ones who would be my future family.
It has been so long now that, as I said at the beginning, he will probably never remember that one day in summer, yet it’s enough for me that I remember it for the both of us.
And now, with this story, my family for generations to come, will know what he did for us all.