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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Juan Manuel Etxebarria Ayesta > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

1999 | Ibaizabal

The Proud Miller's Christmas

Arise beloved Basque Country,
forever old, forever new,
a Merry, Peaceful
Christmas to you.

A proud miller lived in his old water mill in a beautiful, tiny village not far from Gorbeia mountain at a time not long after Christianity had reached the country of the Basques.

As the years went by his dear old mill became dilapidated and obsolete, so he decided to build a new one.

He got down to work straight away. First of all he chose the bits of the old mill that could be used, obtained all the rest that he needed and proudly began to build his new mill.

By and by the new mill took shape and he was as pleased as punch, because it was bigger and better than the old one.

The other millers in the town and in the neighbouring ones kept an eye on him afraid that their own little mills might end up with nothing.

The days came and went until the moment arrived for the proud miller to get his new mill turning. Autumn was clamouring for winter, which meant Christmas was not far off.

He was a proud man, so he invited not only the whole village, but also all the lesser millers to go and see his modern mill.

What a sight to behold! The whole village had gathered round the new mill, the other millers watched from a little way off and the proud miller stood in their midst.

Everyone fell silent as the proud miller climbed onto a millstone, which served as a table, to say a few words. He began thus:

-Before your very eyes is the biggest and best mill ever to be seen here for many a long year. From now on you won't have any trouble getting your corn and maize ground. I am now going to start this new mill turning before your very eyes, so from now on come to my mill!

There were all kinds of murmurings among the audience. The proud miller's customers were happy, some were doubtful and others were worried, wondering what was going to become of their more humble mills.

Shortly afterwards the proud miller got down off the table he had climbed onto. To make his mill turn, he opened the canal lock so that the power of the water could reach it. But as the water increased there was an unusual grating sound and the mill did not move an inch! He tried again, but the same thing happened!

The proud miller did not dare try a third time. His face had turned white, as he did not know what to think amid the murmurings of all the townsfolk! There was plenty for them to murmur about and when they had quietened down somewhat, another kind, humble miller from the back said:

-Hey, instead of worrying your head about it, why don't you go up to the Supilaur cave in Gorbeia and ask Mari of Anboto for her advice. If anyone has anything to say, she is the one who will tell you what on earth is the matter with your new mill!

-Yes, of course -replied the proud miller- if it is as simple as that, I'll go to her as soon as possible and with that express purpose.

The proud miller made his way home intending to do just that, while all the other people wended their own way home in astonishment.

He had endured long nights, but never one like that. He just could not sleep a wink. All through that nerve-wracking night he heard the belfry clock strike all the hours, the quarter hours and the half hours.

The next morning, he got up in good time, had his breakfast, put food for his journey in a knapsack, put on his clothes and shoes for the mountains, and crossed himself, as he went out of the mill and headed for Gorbeia.

He quickly made for the Supilaur cave and did not feel much like talking to anyone.

Even though he saw shepherds, muleteers, woodcutters, charcoal burners and other people as he made his way up the mountain, that proud miller did not feel like speaking to anyone until he had solved the problem that was worrying him.

He went on and reached the narrow entrance into the Supilaur cave by and by. Before going inside he paused for a moment to wipe away his sweat and get his breath back.

When he had calmed down, he stood up and very slowly went into the main Supilaur cave.

He was astonished to see tables made of hewn stone, gold tools and so many ornaments.

Glancing in all directions, he went deeper into the cave and eventually heard the following words from its depths:

-Who goes there?

-It's me, -replied the proud miller frightened- the miller of such and such a place! And who might you be?

-Me? I'm Mari of Anboto!

-Well, I've come to seek your advice!

-Sit down there on a hewn stone chair and wait, I'll be with you right away!

The proud miller sat down as he was told, and Mari of Anboto immediately appeared at his side.

She looked wonderful: smartly dressed, her hair beautifully combed, clad in a bright-blue fur coat. She spoke in a soft voice.

Mari of Anboto put some cider in a gold tankard in front of him on the table and the miller, out of habit, said "Jesus" and took a sip.

On seeing the miller's surprise and incomprehension, Mari of Anboto said to him half laughing:

-Don't be afraid! Before Christ was born many people used to come here to seek my advice, but not so many since. So, calm down. What is troubling you so much as to bring you all this way?

-Look, I've just built a new mill and when I went to start it turning, it made a grating sound and refused to move an inch, so I've come to seek your advice!

-A mill you say? You mean a quern!

-Quern is an old word, nowadays we call it a mill.

-Well. Before you set it turning, did you bless it or say any prayers, according to the Christian custom?

-No, we didn't.

-Well, -replied Mari of Anboto- the devil has locked that new mill, and if you want to get it turning and working properly, the abbot of such and such abbey will have to bless it for you at midnight on Christmas Eve.

-On Christmas Eve? replied the miller-. But Christmas is nearly upon us, we've been preparing the Christmas gifts to celebrate these special days!

-So much the better, that way you'll be able to get your new mill working and grind the corn for the Christmas loaves. Now, calm down and go your way and you'll know what to do next time. I'll be staying here, because now we are in the Christian era I haven't got any powers, but you go off and faithfully celebrate your Christianised Christmastide!

The proud miller thanked Mari of Anboto and, leaving the cave, headed for home.

The proud miller felt more courageous on the way down than on the way up and brimming with happiness gave some whoops of joy.

When he got back to his mill, he put on his Sunday best, took his horse-drawn cart and headed for the monastery Mari of Anboto had spoken of, without uttering a word to anyone.

He told his horses to giddy up, and went straight along the road while all the village people watched him.

On reaching the monastery he jumped down from the cart, rang the doorbell and asked to speak to the abbot.

When the abbot appeared and saw the miller so anxious he thought a terrible accident or something had befallen him; so in a kindly voice he asked him:

-For the love of God, what has befallen you for you to come here in such an anxious state?

-What has happened? Well, let me explain: I have built a new mill and Mari of Anboto says it has been locked by the devil and to get it turning she says I need the blessing of the abbot of this monastery.

-Well- said the abbot-, today is the day before Christmas Eve, so I will go to your house tomorrow, spend Christmas Eve there and bless your new mill at midnight.

And so it came to pass. When the abbot pronounced the blessing, a dreadful scraping by the devil could be heard all over the mill.

After the blessing, a tinkling sound could be heard when the new mill, which before had been stuck, starting turning.

So around Christmas time the miller ground the corn and maize of the citizens for free. He shook off all the pride he had shown until that moment and learnt to behave like a good citizen from that moment onwards.

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