Archive for farming

Birds of the Field, A Fable

I walked by a field, wide and open, and as I made my way on the cobbled path, I noticed there were only sparrows here. Why don’t more wonderful birds come here? I asked myself, It’s such a wide open field.

I called out to them, to the birds beyond the treeline, flitting around nearby crofts, soaring above cottages hid by hills. Why don’t you come here? It’s a very nice field.

At first they said nothing.

Going about their flying and pecking, why would they listen to an old child of Maba on a path?

I inquired again. Why don’t you come down to this field?

This time they flew closer and answered. Because it’s not a good field.

This managed to drum up consternation in me. How could they not see? I blasted back right away. What’s wrong with it?

They gave me the courtesy to say, Look, there are no bushes with seeds and no earth soft enough for worms and no water for the bugs to make counsel by.

When I looked at the field I saw this.

And so, to bring the birds to my field—for it was in my heart mine now—I set to plant and transplant bushes with seeds.

Just to see if one might be enough, I asked them to come to the field for the seeds.

You know how many things we need, they replied.

So I took to breaking up the ground, turning the earth to make soft patches peek out between the grass.

Then I asked if they would look at my work again.

You know how many things we need, child of Maba.

I surmised this would be their response.

This time I scanned the field, the places where the ground was broken up, the bushes growing in patches, and I imagined where a stream of water might be. I began my old man’s canal, but the work took many days, before it connected to the canal of young strong men bringing water from the river.

After weeks of defying Gerea and turning earth and begging water to flow my way, there was a fine and shimmering stream in my field.

I called to the birds again.

Their minds among the clouds spoke back to me, Thank you.

They knew before they got there I had done good work. The wisdom on wings comes through the language of the wind.

Jackdaws, thrushes, robins, and lapwings descended. They wrestled seeds from the cones of bushes and tore them from the carcasses of berries inedible. The lapwings waded across the stream and they deemed it good.

Then a kingfisher landed in a bush of mine by my stream. His brilliant cerulean said to me, Well done.

And then I knew the bush was his.

The bushes were the thrushes’ and robins’.

The stream was the lapwings’.

The turned earth was the jackdaws’ and the thrushes’.

None of it was mine any more.

And so I continued on the path and knew I would return some day to the field of the birds’.

Against the Rain

With a crack of thunder, a series of jabberings rolled out: “Another rainstorm? This early? That field’s too wet already,” “Get Morton out there to keep that rain off the fields,” “But no mage is that powerful.”

“I can’t possibly keep all the rain off the whole field.”

“Well you better damn well try. This is about eating or not eating.”

“Oh a—alright,” Morton stuttered.

Morton shuffled to the center of the field then clasped his hands as if in prayer. The thunder rumbled louder. He and the whole village waited. Before the sound of rain reached the crowd’s ears, Morton went into action, throwing out his arms. The rain blew off to the edges of the field. He mustered more power. A flash went out over the field. The wind subsided, but the rain stayed back as if it were hitting glass. A few of the children ran out into the rain to see the sight closer. Their mothers yelled after them that they’d catch cold. They ran under the barrier and looked up into a cascade of water droplets racing above them. They didn’t stream and bead like on glass, but just changed their direction like a herd of sheep.

“Get that barrier on the sides too, the water’s gonna splash back into the fields,” one of the women cried out. “Martin get over there and tell him,” she grabbed her neighbor’s husband. He took a few steps out into the rain and then waved his hands and pointed to the edge of the field. Wincing understandably, Morton focused more of his strength into the barrier and closed it around the field and the children. Playing scared they screeched and ran through harmlessly back out into the rain, slopping their mothers with water when they had finally obeyed.

Lightning cracked and made everyone shriek. The wind blew harder and the rain got heavier and Morton pushed more of his life into the barrier. He let out a yell, the barrier glowed, and then he let his hands down. He started to run back and forth, swirling his hands, working up a huge wind. He threw huge waves of rain off away from the barrier. He kept going back and forth, trying to work up a cyclone that would keep blowing the rain off. The storm went on long enough that the people ended up sitting down. The adults took naps and picked their teeth with straw. The children half-heartedly tried to play games, but mostly laid on their parents and watched the mage take on the storm. He was throwing his hands out a lot more and yelling more. The sides of the barrier the adults had chided him about were flickering, but he always brought them back. “Seeds have… got to stay dry…” someone mumbled as they nodded off.

By the time everyone was done with their nap and ready for the sun to come back out, Morton’s eyes were crazed. He had kept his hands up, thrust at the sky, and he couldn’t remember when they had gone numb. He was as thirsty as ever, wishing he had the presence of mind to open a tiny hole in his barrier to get a drink. He just kept thinking of keeping all the people from starving this year. He was babbling phrases to remind himself. His muscles shook. His body quaked. He looked up at the rainfall spreading out above him and his gaze was locked in its pattern. He saw the clouds behind it, with all their billowing shapes. He didn’t even notice that they were getting brighter and thinner. The flowing pattern of droplets slowed and then was gone and he didn’t know what to do.

When the rain finally stopped, the mage out in the field fell face forward, like an old fence post being knocked over. Everyone ran out to the edge of the field. The first man there leaned over the fence and felt the dirt. Dry.

They looked up at Morton lying in the field, the clouds still moving all around and graying everything. Everyone moved closer but didn’t go up to the man. The priest went out and looked at him, then he bowed his head and his hands glowed, but there was nothing there. The priest shook his head. At the head of the crowd, he turned back around to look at the body. He didn’t know what to pray and had no idea what to say. A tear came down his cheek and he fought to not break down. A few of the women whimpered, a couple men dabbed their eyes, and the children sniffled. The clouds began to break and the returning sun gave a golden evening glow to everything. It wouldn’t be long before dark.

—Michael Billips

The Magicless

The magicless work the land by the sweat of their brow, while they say there are elf cities where they plow the ground perfectly just with magic. Some say they even sing the furrows right into the field. After going through what it takes to be so adept at magic, I say that those fabled elves likely still have to work the ground, but effortlessly use magic to make their work perfect. Of course you can’t change the weather, despite what they say about elves, so there must be some trials they still face. I believe that chiefly their struggle is boredom, that in their perfect world they find nothing to learn, nothing to gain an edge on, nothing to master or conquer. There are no great causes or great quests, just the boring sameness of perfectly plowed rows and perfectly placed seeds.

There was a man out in his field who had learned a thing or two. He had managed to trade off his week work and get to a city for a time. He had also spent time speaking with a pointy-hatted old man throughout his days. You could see them walking together on the edge of the meadow like they were talking about what gods were real and what the world looked like when you were dead.

It was late winter now and no one had thought of breaking up the still-frozen ground. The man though had learned a thing or two. He leaned over and brushed away a patch of snow. He held his hand out to the ground, closed his eyes, and fire came out like he was lighting peat. He focused now on how the flame was coming out of his hand and beating on the ground. Trickles of water started to form and the dirt got soft.

The man took a break and stood up. He kept looking down at his defrosted patch of ground. His neighbors saw him standing out there wiping his forehead and wondered what work he had done.

By the time spring came, the man could keep a flame burning from his hand for a while. He would occasionally try to shoo away birds with it, but it usually stirred up the people around him and they got all fussy.

Oh my. My man, what are you doing? Put that out now, don’t go settin’ the whole damn field on fire. Look at you, do you think you’re a mage or something? When a real mage fights there’s lightning and dark clouds and the ground gets up and moves and there’s a whole storm of fire. Are you really going to be able to keep that up to go a whole furlong? If you could do that you would be the hero of this town. That’s not bad, I say, if you keep that up we might get some use outta that. We would make a statue of you out of shit and old wood.

The man practiced burning chaff and trash as much as he could, so much so that everybody started calling him the trash man. In fall, when the wolves came for the chickens and pigs, he was practiced enough to send one away smelling like a crematorium. The others thought twice for a while before returning.

By winter the man was sure he could defrost a whole furlong, so he set out to try as soon as there was frost. “I won’t be able to keep it away, but I sure as well need to know if I can do it at all.” A good number of people actually gathered around to watch by this time, all standing there in the snow, bundled up in blankets and holding cups of hot water or steeped herbs. The fire blasted out of his hand as he ran, burning hot enough to melt away the snow. He got to the end of the furrow and collapsed to his knees. The village cheered. One of the older men walked over to the defrosted furrow and felt the ground. The snow was cleared, but the ground was still frozen. The man realized this too and after recovering for a few minutes, he tried it again, running back. When the old man stepped out this time he picked up a handful of cold, but soft dirt. The men patted the fire man on the back, congratulated and thanked him but none of them were sure for what.

At the end of winter the man ran the furrow with his fire again. In celebration the village planted an early row of wheat. With a little tending and some more heating duty from the man, the village was able to have a furrow’s worth of grain weeks before the rest of the harvest.