Monday, June 24, 2013

The Farming Dragon

NOTE: Here's a new story working its way out.

“Naught to do now but wait,” he said, rain dripping from his hair and nose. He stood in mud and rivulets and puddles of water.

The ox moaned.

With swift strokes he cut the leather thongs and ropes that tied the ox to the plow, mired in the muddy field. With another low moan, the ox stumbled off, slipping in the mud, towards the nearby trees where perhaps it might find shelter from its misery. He’d tried for an hour to unknot the leather, but his weary fingers couldn’t ferret the knots from the wet harnesses.

Abbington knew rain. He lived with it. He slept with it. He drank it and from it made his tea and his soup. But never had he seen such rain, and for so long. The runnels swelled to rivers. The rivers boiled with brown muck flecked with bits of log and fence and house and drowned dog. The roads were impassible with mud and the tracks through field and glen sucked boots from the feet.

He sneezed into rain-shriveled hands.

“Even the fish,” he muttered as the rain pelted his already-soaked hat. “Even the fish are tired of the rain.”

“Carn’t plant the portaters, they keep’m floadin’ away,” said Crump. He and other soggy farmers lined the bar at the mud-caked pub. “Nawt the barley, neither. And them carrot seed, why’m they swole up to the size o’radishes, they did.”

The others nodded.

Ain’t seen rain like this since Noah build t’ark,” Stark said.

For more than a month, indeed, nothing but rain. Grey clouds rolled in day after day, like wool from the shearers.

“Ev’rone’s got the rot,” Malcolm said. “Me poor Bessie, her hooves just rotted out from ‘neath her. Had to have the knackers come, she suffered so. Curse this rain and the God that brings it!”

Jeremy was worried. No new beer deliveries to his pub for two weeks, and the cellar was nearly empty, except for the seepage. Seemed the longer the rain lasted, the longer the farmers’ thirst held for beer. And if he ran out, why, these folks were ugly enough drunk; he couldn’t imagine them sober, dripping, clamoring for a pint he couldn’t give them.

“Eh, Abbingdon,” Malcolm said. “Solved that problem of your’n, have ye?” He chuckled.

Abbingdon’s smile faded slightly. Malcom, even in the best weather on the best days, made him weary, but with the weeks of rain he’d grown wearisome with his pecking at everyone’s difficulty.

“No,” Abbingdon said. “But the solution will come. I’m sure of it.”

“Sure’n it will,” Malcom snarled. “Soon as the rain dries up.” He grabbed his tumbler of whisky and swallowed it.

Abbindon stared out the window, through the pub’s wavy glass. The solution will come, he was sure of it. Likely his son Salomon would steal a solution and bring it home to hide in the chicken coop, as he had with the silver form the church, the barrels of whisky from the pub – he was lucky they let him through the doors now, after that episode – and the good tack and plow from the abominable Malcolm, who spat at Salomon every time he saw him.

He sighed. Such troubles, and with the rain making everything wetter than a duck’s bottom,  Abbingdon didn’t need any more troubles.
*             *
"The copse yonder of Woolley Farm is burning," Mikal said.

Abbingdon's eyes rose from the barrow he was pushing through the muck. He was quite pleased with it. He'd removed the wheel and built the front of it on a hinged sledge, so it still bore the weight of the load but slid over the mud rather than sinking into it up to the axle, as the wheeled barrow had done. Now if only he could do the same with his knees.

It was not a smudge of smoke, but a curling billow boiling up into the low-hanging clouds. He frowned. He had often seen smokes and vapors rising from the earth. He was familiar with the clammy vagaries of fog and the biting concealment of blizzards.

"That be Dragon-smoke," he said to the stunned Mikal. Naught else could get this wet world to burn but a Dragon."

"What do we do?" Mikal gulped.

Abbingdon rested his hands on the barrow handles.

"We watch," he said. "And if I'm familiar with the worm, we lose a few sheep, a few cattle, before the men of the village are united and frightened enough to try to chase beasts off. Some few will be burned, returning to their homes in blackened, smoking clothing and dazed expressions. Some few will disappear - some run off, some eaten. Less so if we can hire a knight, or a Hero comes a-wandering through."

"That's all? We're powerless?"

Abbingdon nodded. "Seen it all before, ha'n't I? Grew up in the Wild Wood, where the Worms came to feed. Don't know anyone from the Wild Wood who has his or her eyebrows-" he waggled his bald brow "- or isn't missing a few fingers or a few relatives cause of the Worms."

Mikal looked like a water-wheel jammed by a boulder tossed down in the spring floods. He cast his eyes toward the billow, back towards Abbingdon, next to the village.

Abbingdon laughed. "Young Mikal," he chortled, "calm yourself. I'm filling yew full of stories. Again. Yonder is a billow from the Colby mine, which sends up a stack ever so often on the days when the rain is lighter and the wind just right. It will be gone, yon cloud, by nightfall, and you may sleep tight, no Worms descending to nibble yer toes."

Mikal smiled. "One if these days, I'logically see you're talking through your hat." He glanced up at the clouds, blackening on the horizon. "Think it'll rain?"

It was Abbingdon's turn to smile. "If it don't, I'm a lizard."

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