A Farmer's Tale
A farmer's tale
The plough grinded to a stop in the dry field. Ryan landed on his knees and dug his hand deep in the ground. He lifted some earth, grinded it in his hands and inspected it closely, smelling it, tasting it. He closed his eyes and let his mind submerge into a vision of hard work, water irrigated over the land, the green plants growing on it and the joyfull cries of children when the harvest was celebrated. As he knelt over the field, with his clothes covered in dust and his hands in eart, he almost seemed to blend in to his field as if he had grown there. He opened his eyes and look about him, wondering if he had been shaped to match the land or the land had been shaped to match him. So often had he checked the condition of his land, so many harvests had they shared that they seemed to speak to eachother. They shared many tales, harvests and dry times.
A loud curse stirred him from his daydream. He looked over at the adjacent hill, the slanted field of his neighbour. His neighbour was ploughing his field as well, cursing and swearing loudly, waving his arms in frustration so violently he could barely hold on to his plough. Ryan sighed.
- "So blind is his anger at the stones he digs up, that he throws them aimlessly back on the land and burries them.", he whispered to his field. "How can the land bear fruits this way? Doesn't the land tell him how to care for it?".
- - "He doesn't listen" replied the field.
Ryan shook his head. "See you tomorrow, old friend. I trade the sunlight for the warmth of my house and family. Already my wife welcomes me as I walk to it."
As Ryan disappeared in the warm glow of his house, the land sighed one last time in the wind.
Ryan leaned over his land while the sun shone its first rays of light over the mountains. The earth in his hands seemed to speak to him and he answered the land's question:
- "Yes, my old friend, I will get you your water. Your thirst runs deep. I'll bring it steady and for a longer time this year. I will give you water of the river, fresh and cool from the mountains. Be kind to me and my family, for we have yet another mouth to feed! Shauna is her name and she smiles so brightly it will warm you in cold days. Soon you'll be blessed with her playfull feet and her joyful voice will ring over your hills."
Thus the farmer set out to dig a small canal from the river behind his land. To reach the higher fields, he build a pump driven by a mule.
- "You too shall eat the grass and later the hay that will grow on the lands you worked for", he told the mule. The mule turned its ears, nodded and worked steadily all day.
As Ryan watched his land drink from the fresh water, his neighbour came by, swaying heavily and drunk. Still clinging to a bottle of wine, the neighbour spoke loudly.
- - "Moist and fertile your earth looks! Dirt and stones are all I have left.. The land failed its grain harvest last year and it will again. I shall have no food or money this winter! My land betrayed my efforts! Bah! May you all rot away before I do."
Ryan offered some help but it was refused with another curse.
- "I pity the man", said Ryan, "for he is hurt and his land does not feed him."
- "I pity the land", replied the land, "for it is hurt and its owner does not feed it."
That night, in drunken anger, the neighbour set fire to his house and cursed the very world that had forsaken him in his needs. So fiery were the flames that no effort from the villagers could save the house. But the town folk managed to save the man, although badly burned. He was brought to Northshire abbey, in hope that the priests could save him.
- - "In time the strength in his hands and arms may return.", the priests spoke, "But it is not the fire from which he must recover. The wound in his heart runs deeper still and may forever mark him. We shall let him rest here till he is healed. Seek him out when you can. He'll speak when his heart opens once again."
The villagers returned and gathered in the town hall. They spoke in shock and fear:
- - "Do we all await this fate? To work till our land turns to dust, only to see our lives and hopes burn in flames?"
- - "He did not respect his land and his land did not respect him. His example serves well."
- - "I do not wish him harm, but too small will my own harvest be this year to spare him a share."
- - "Wrong were his views and actions."
- - "He told me a few days ago that his land spoke to him."
Ryan suddenly redressed and listened intently. He was surprised his neighbour wouldn't have told such a thing to him.
- - "He claimed that his land said his efforts were in vain, that no crop that he sows will grow on his land. And the land told him to seek the answer in the best of wines! Well, we saw where that brought him."
Some villagers laughed, some shook their head grimly. Ryan frowned in thought.
As the sun shone its final ray of light over the horizon, Ryan spoke to his land:
- "I have lost my neighbour. I remember he once smiled and had the best cheese and bread in town."
- - "Soon, I will lose my neighbour", replied the land, "For my neighbour with its stones and its few crops kept its land from sliding and burrying me. It shared its water with me when I lacked it. Fresh is the water from the river but richer still was the water from my neighbour. After many lifetimes, now my end feels near to me."
- "I begin to see you and your neighbouring land are one. Though you speak with separate voices, your fates are entwined. Through you, I am tied to my neighbour's fate. I did not see I was closer to him than the distance of our houses. Shall I now suffer his fate?"
- - "Of four hands, only two remain. Can they work two fields?"
Ryan looked up at the hill, the dry field of his neighbour.
- "What crops can I sow on that hill that will still grow in time?" asked Ryan.
- - "None." replied the land.
- "Then perhaps it is a cruel land indeed. His land even told him to seek the answer in the bar. How can it now be saved?"
- - "Do not fail to listen." replied the land with a sigh in the wind.
Ryan entered his house with a heavy heart and asked his wife to retrieve a bottle of wine. She served him a glass and put the bottle on the table.
- - "To drink wine when troubled is never the answer" she told him, and with a disappointed frown she turned and left him alone in the room.
Ryan picked up the glass. "Do not fail to listen." he spoke to himself, "Then this holds the answer." He put the glass back down. "Do not fail to listen." he sighed, "Don't drink wine when troubled." He laughed grimly to himself, mocking his own trouble. He learned long ago to heed the words of his wife... but also that of his land.
The unlabeled bottle of wine seemed to stare back at him, silently holding the answer out his grasp. The wood in the fireplace cracked. Ryan looked in the flames and felt a shiver run through his spine, reminded of the fate that awaited him. The air seemed to stiffen. His heart began to pound under the pressure that laid on his shoulders. In this room were gathered the solution, the man who would have to work the lands and the consequences should he fail this challenge. The fire seemed to burn brighter and blind him. As a consequence the rest of the room seemed to darken around him.
He looked at the glass of wine, its surface reflecting a tempting refuge from his troubles. Suddenly he smiled. With a wide gesture he grabbed the glass of wine and drank it.
The mule worked the waterpump tiredlessly. The water flowed down the irrigation channels, slowly and steadily. Ryan worked his spade with determination. Every ten feet, he dug a hole. Some of the water would seep into it and moisten the ground. Some of it would trickle further down.
Every large rock Ryan found in the ground, he brought to the foot of his neighbour's hill. Every small stone, he left on the surface. Ryan looked up and surveyed the land. Almost a month had he worked his neighbour's land. Both lands were fed from the same water. Already on his land the plants were sprouting from the ground. The neighbour's land was still barren, but it was ready.
From that day on, he visited Northshire monthly. Even though his neighbour refused to speak him, Ryan seemed content with every visit. Two years came to pass. The harvests of Ryan's field were rich and his daughter ran over the fields, laughing as she went. Quickly he developed a reputation of being lucky or knowing secret methods to farming, but Ryan kept it to himself and sticked to his routine visits of Northshire.
After two years, his neighbour finally started to speak:
- - "So great is the grain from your lands, I'm told, that you have grown wealthy. So rich, in fact, that you managed to buy a farm for your daughter when she'll be grown up. Why is it that fortune comes your way? Have you come here to mock me? Was it not by my efforts that your lower lands was kept safe?"
- "The real fortune will not be mine but yours. In your absence I worked your land, but it awaits your return to proudly bear the fruits of its labor. Far richer will your harvest be if you work it. The land will give all you need and more. Will you not come and see it?"
- - "The stone walls of this abbey and the fields around it have grown on me."
- "Your old field may feel more homelike than before, then."
The cart crawled along the winding pathway of their village and stopped at the neighbour's field. The two men jumped down and looked at the landscape. The air was filled with laughter of Ryan's daughter, only a few yards further. The hill and the adjacent field were blooming green.
- "Your land tried to tell you, brother. You had but to listen." Ryan spoke to his neighbour.
They walked to the hill and inspected the crops. Ryan began explaining.
- "The rocks, sand and slope are perfect for it. Your hill has he best sun of the land. It will not require ploughing. The big rocks that were stuck in the ground have been gathered there. "
Ryan pointed at a strong stone chimney and a wooden house built around it, not too far from Ryan's house.
- "Closer, so we may never live so separated again that I can not know what troubles you. But see! Things are better now. When I left, the crops bore no fruits yet. It seems the land expected your return."
The neighbour raised his eyebrows.
- - "Grapes?", he exclaimed. Ryan nodded.
- "The trunks I bought from Milly in Northshire. No visit there was in vain."
- - "But I don't know how to make wine."
- "I heard... through the grapevines... That Milly's niece has taken a liking for you."
His neighbour turned scarlet red in the face and they burst out in laughter.