Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Forrester's Quest: Chapter 1 - A Farmer, two Fiddles and an Ox



Up! Up! My Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double.
Up! Up! My Friend, and clear your look;
Why all this toil and trouble?

The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening luster mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! ‘tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! On my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.

And hark! How blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless –
Spontaneous wisdom breathed my health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of more evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things: -
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives

The Tables Turned By William Wordsworth




I


A FARMER, TWO FIDDLES AND AN OX

THE long dusty road stretched out into infinity, its lengthy barrenness beckoning solitude. A rich harvest of crops could be seen on either side of it, the variety and plentitude overindulging the senses. Stocks of corn firmly formed in abundance. Cucumbers, potatoes and lettuce brought tender cheer to the wandering onlookers of insects gliding and crawling in their cyclical journeys. Bushels of onions as far as the eye could see.
The tomato. Its grand importance never too far from the keen eye. All embedded in earth and dirt, among Nature’s endless list of possessions and virtues. See the tender stock growing in plentitude. Its embracement of life brings life.
     The sky’s palette of blue clarity oversaw these glorious fields this fine, upstart day. A single cloud made only the slightest appearance from time to time, ushered away until the next cluster formed.
     Not unlike any other day it was in the fields of Lower Mire, or Myrr, as it was known in the ancient times. The villagers were busy at work claiming the fruition of the summer’s happy harvest. Their minds finally at ease while their hands worked hurriedly in the morning light.
     The people of Lower Mire were a proud collection of souls. Their strength and solidarity lay in their love of family and knowledge of each other’s every affair, jovial or not. How the ears pricked up at the chatter of friendly neighbours together idly slicing peppers and crushing garlic in the mid-afternoon heat. Arms raised, gripping the gate of the front yard whilst chins rested on the top, conversing in a melody of vital information. Yes, these were well acquainted neighbors through and through. Their names rang in the windy air: The Billingsleys, the Motfires, Trenchants, Delaneys, Suttons, Sternes, Eaeldreds. Endless, truly endless. Most impressive yet, everyone knew each other to the utmost degree. Again, not an uncommon occurrence for such a small village. Yet, deserving of a bow of approval. Wedding dates, baptisms, birthdays and all sorts of bothersome, tedious list of dates. Ah, but to the residents of Lower Mire, this was their life.
     To truly understand the people of this hard working village, one must venture to comprehend, through patience and careful thought, the layout of the dwellings and surrounding geography. Situated off the centuries old main road of Asharan, the village sat just to the west of it, settled underneath the steep slopes of the mountain of Ealdmoder. Opposite from it, on the other side of the Asharan road – the east side – lay the farming fields spread out. These were of course the fields of Lower Mire, better known as ‘the field of gold’. Beyond them to the east over the rolling hills lay the other great mountain of Ealdefaeder. Along its gentler slopes was the village of Upper Mire – whose history lay very much entwined with that of Lower. The two mountains formed an enclosing border, providing protection and cover for the two communities over many centuries. At the edge of the field of gold sat the old peaceful forest of Ilfen. It was not large, yet radiated with serene charm and beauty. Filled with oak trees and many other varieties of arbor, undergrowth and life, the tranquil greenery provided peace for many of the villagers who cared to pass through it. Along the forest ran the Myrr creek, which provided the water for the crops to grow.
     It is in this balance of nature and growth that the people of Lower Mire lived their lives care free with peace and mutual togetherness.
     For the most part, the people lived along the main, battered dirt road that ran through almost the entire village of Lower Mire. Every day they would pass along the weathered lanes, horses plodding along, pulling their burgeoning carts of hay or food. Supplies aplenty.
     Today was just like any other day, filled with boisterous crowds in the marketplace, families perusing and exchanging food and goods, whilst children sang in good cheer. The morning wore on slowly but surely, and by midday almost the entire village was in the main square of Lower Mire. For, coincidentally enough, there was a particular event that attracted only the highest bidders: The haggling of the woolly-coated boars.
     Here competition ran at its highest, least not because the principal sellers provided only the best boars from their own precious stock, raised and fed to the most pristine condition of plump. Besides their most obvious value, the long hairs on their backs provided wool as a raw material for saddlers. As such, these excellent grazers were held in high esteem across the land.
     Yet, these were not the reasons why the haggling of the woolly-coats was most entertaining and spell-binding for the villagers. Indeed, it was the great rivalry that became of it in recent years, as the main competitors in this lively Lower Mire tradition were three of the four brothers of Eaeldred: Borah, Dill and Turnavine. The Eaeldred family was the most oldest and famous of the families that first settled in Lower Mire all those many years ago. They arrived with the first settlers that originally migrated from the larger village of Upper Mire. They came to settle, to grow, to start anew. A strong family they were then. That strength still resonates today individually, but not in unity. Twenty years ago they were as one; close friends, forming a bond from the minute they were born. Inseparable in the village square, tavern or farmland. The Eaeldred’s they were. However, over time – as they aged, and responsibilities and expectations grew with marriages and children and council meetings – they began to drift apart.
     Dill, the fourth and youngest brother, was a quick witted yet tempestuous fellow, prone to jealousy and short sightedness. His elusive ways always struck an indecent chord with the other four brothers, particularly Turnavine – as the third oldest, he was always in eternal competition with his little brother Dill. Habitually jealous, constantly looking to prosper as much as he could, Turnavine had drifted very far from the young, selfless man of years bygone.
     “A pity,” many would cry out. “Together, they played the liveliest, most vivacious fiddles in all the land. Ah, how I do miss those days!”
     Borah was the second oldest. Strong as an ox, he ceaselessly commanded respect, from his own family members and those he shared the village with. He took pride in all his work, whether on the farms or in the selling of his stock in the square. But it was his stubbornness and fierce temper that he was most known for.
     The oldest brother was named Ignatius. He was a headstrong, traditional man, impervious to acts and antics of confrontational circumstances, always preferring to take the middle ground of sound judgment – much like his father did. Ignatius was firm in his ways, uncompromising and sure of himself, dedicating his life to the growth and prosperity of his farmland.
     Stories abounded of this famous foursome, yet as the years went by, less and less folk chose to tell them. Eventually they would be all but forgotten. Still, every so often, on a cloudy, wind-swept afternoon in the fall, or frost-bitten winter, there would be the odd narrator in the Myrr Tavern, willing to recall some of the stories of old – so long as none of the brothers were around.
     The village square was now a mass of onlookers, surrounding the small group of buyers and handlers gathered in the centre of the excitement. Some wore faces of cheer, laughing at all the wages being waved around on the potential prices of the boards at hand. Others stood grimly, focused on the task to come, knowing they must purchase the woolly-coated beasts at a good, yet reasonable price.
     Suddenly there was a motion from little Tomkin, sitting on the enclosure of the small vegetable market set up at the entrance to the square from the main dirt road. He raised his hand to signal and the murmuring of chatterers began to swell with volume. Mr. Wootton was calmly making his entrance to the square, three of his prized boars at his heels. He had an air of confidence about him, but the crowd scoffed at his assured affront. They knew the brothers Eaeldred all too well. Next came Thurlow, Penn, then the Hagleys. Still, not a single villager was impressed.
     Then, a cry from Tomkin as he pointed to his left. Around the corner of the dirt road did the placid form of Dill emerge, wearing an indifferent scowl on his face. His thin body casually leading on his three champions of the day. Turnavine was close on his heels, looking rather perturbed at the indignity of his brother strolling ahead of him into the village square. He felt that it was his duty to enter first as the older of the two brothers. Turnavine’s tall, lanky figure huffed with outright annoyance as he dragged his struggling boars along behind him.
     Amidst this extraordinary display of posturing, leaning on a horse post next to the fish market of Mrs. Bowbray, stood the amused youth of Fenn Eaeldred. He gazed at the three men gathered at the centre of the market, boars at hand, arguing almost at once with each other and those hoping to settle accounts as quickly as possible. But Fenn knew, as did everyone else, that the true test would come once Borah made his arrival.
     Fenn was a young man of no more than twenty, an air of indifference permeating from his calm, green eyes. His tousled brown hair had a hint of blond in it, which almost always seemed to go very much noticed by those closest to him. But no matter, he was who he was. Fenn was tall for his age – a trait he knew he inherited from his father, as was the fact that he was left-handed. A pair of farmers hands he had as well, strong and true, though by the smooth look of his face one would never have gathered that he had worked a day in his life. Up and down the fields he would trudge daily, his father calling after him, proud of the work his son always did manage to do.
     Fenn was fully immersed in the events transpiring before him when a quick and sure-footed form surreptitiously navigated its way behind the occupied youth and clasped a hand on Fenn’s shoulder warmly.
     “Who do you gather will win it this year squire?” ventured the unexpected visitor.
     Fenn only slightly turned his head toward the voice and gave the heartiest laughs a young man could bestow. The smile on his face was infectious as his inquisitive friend could only mirror his cheery disposition.
     “That matter was settled years before you were born Horsfall!” started Fenn, amused that his young companion would even venture such a question. Horsfall – a well-tempered youth who was only slightly younger than Fenn – simply shrugged at his reply, obviously hoping for a different answer this year. He slid his hand through his long dark hair and turned to face the melee of hagglers going at it without any remorse.
     “You know Horsfall, every year I come to this – spectacle – and wonder why Uncle Turnavine and Uncle Dill simply don’t gather up their wits and together, sharing their lot, raise the finest boars this side of Asharan,” he shook his head slowly in disbelief. “Each to his own task, they don’t stand a chance against Uncle Borah. But together, united, yes, they would cause the greatest sensation in all of Lower Mire! Even the people in Upper would be singing their praises.”
     “Ah, but Mr. Borah would never forgive them for that slight! Can you imagine the indignity?” Horsfall countered.
     “I couldn’t even begin to. Look now, here he comes.”
     Slowly, but steadily, the burly form of the great Borah could be seen on the western branch of the main dirt road leading into the village square. The air of confidence on the man’s visage would shrivel up the proudest of men. Into the crowd of onlookers and participants he strode with four burly looking boars. The contest seemed never in doubt from the outset.
     As the lively dance of bartering and boasting began in high spirit, Fenn peeled himself away from the fish market that had been his vantage point most of the day. He waved to Horsfall to come along, but his friend wanted to stay and enjoy the spectacle. Through the rushing crowd of boisterous village folk, Fenn made his way out of the square. The old dirt road bended slightly west as it stretched deeper into the village itself. On days such as these, he very much enjoyed walking along the main road, observing the quiet atmosphere created by so many villagers being at the square. Fenn would welcome the occasional dog greeting him with a friendly bark, or a cheery group of sparrows darting about his head and into the branches of trees along the road. Before long Fenn had reached the tiny bridge which crossed a small creek that ran all around the mountainside, past his grandfather’s house that lay deeper in the trees that covered the entire mountain. He was nearly home.

The conclusion of chapter 1 to come...

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