Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2220341-The-Time-of-No-Harvest
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Fantasy · #2220341
Will Fredek complete his oath or forfeit all things to the Necromancer of Felman Hill?
If you must, perhaps you can.


he ailing yellow moon hung low over the skeletal, bramble woods that bounded Fredek's destination, the sorcerer's necropolis. As he approached the city of the dead, the chill wind reaching through the pale linen of Fred's tunic and rippling his hollow leather sleeves, reminded him that one day he would join his father, laid to rest in a box and carried up Felman Hill for safekeeping.

"No, Fred, my love!" The woman ran to him in graceful leaps and bounds, the common fabric of her dress flowing like royal silk. "Only fools go to Felman's Hill."

Fred shivered as he looked up Felman's Hill, home of the dead. "You married a fool that thought he could make a life in this town."

"I don't want to lose you."

But, if I stay, one way or another.... Fred shivered. "Nor I, you." Fred turned toward her, and put his hand above her elbow.

A grave look crossed her face as she stared into his eyes.

"How am I to keep you, as a pretender to village life?"

"You have a place of honor." She shook her head, and frowned.

Fred thought the tilt of her head so perfect and regal, that she could be addressing a court, like a queen, or at least a magistrate. Not some farmer's wife.

She scolded him further. "You hear the Father of Harvests."

Sure, the dreadful villagers heeded his counsel, when to plant, and when to pick. In that, Fred was to them, no different from the sorcerer Felman: stranger and an outcast. Seeing no honor in that, Fred shrugged.

She stepped toward him, palms up.

"A village with no room for magic," Fred slowly turned back toward the lonely, uphill path between the thorny trees, "offers me no place--not with them, not with you."

"You think me so far above your station?" Cardena shook her head, and grabbed him by the leather of his sleeves. "Stay with me. I would never leave, not without you."

No matter what she said, Fred refused to abandon his duty to her. He yanked his arm free, turned and sent a bolt of force against her chest to push her away.

Though the rare green silk of her blouse barely rippled, his outburst brought a tear to her eye. She opened her palms, begging. "Stay with me."

His power might not move Cardena, or even rattle a frail old man, but Fred had seen the shifting in old Cesney's eye when he bought his bread. Fred had watched t

he boys Celet and Kels hide under the table when he walked past, like the wicked ogre of the fable. The village would never take him as one of them. "You deserve more."

"I knew all this when I married you."

She meant for him to believe she wanted him in his current state. He tried to hear her words the way she intended, but in truth, she had known, as well as he, that Fred belonged in better places. She wore the silk her father had bought, on this day with nothing special to recommend it. She chose it because it suited her, because she deserved more in a shirt as she deserved more in a husband. Like her shirt, Fred came from finer materials, he only needed to be tailored to match, to have someone cut away the coarse and the common. The thought of her embrace tempted him as much as Felman Hill spooked him. If he let the sight of her eyes trap him, her arms would drain away his courage. He shook his head, and trudged up the hill.

"Gods, Fred! There are other ways." Her tearful voice echoed +hollow. "I knew all this when I married you, Fredek."

He had felt so lucky when she had taken his copper broach, indicating her interest in him. If only I had known--though in fact, he had always known he would eventually find his place on Felman Hill. The words hung in Fred's throat as he trudged silently up the path.

"Only you can help me," he whispered, rehearsing so quietly even the owl might not hear. "Only you have the secrets I need."

Once there, he stood several feet away from the gate, reaching out as if to knock at the cold wrought iron fence.

Out of the foggy shadows behind the twisted iron gate, strode the tall, bald, black-robed sorcerer, Nameless Felman. "What could be so valuable a man would wager the right to life?"

"Only you..." Fred's mouth dried and stopped. He shook his head. "I've magic. Teach me!"

The ominous figure nodded. "Go back to your master if you would learn."

He puffed up his chest. "I was born--"

"Not mine to teach." The Nameless one waved his fingers again, sending more shivers down Fred's body.

He thinks me some starstruck peasant, with no talent. If I don't show him, he'll abandon me. "No, it's real." Fred pointed his palm at the lock on the gate. The metal chilled his bones as he pushed until it jiggled loose.

The Nameless one pointed at an empty spot in the air, and then to the gate.

The air rippled. The lock snapped back into place.

At the casual display of power, Fredek's gut dipped inside him, and he stepped back, as if to withdraw his claim. No, Fred, that's why you need him, because he is better than you. "I am the same as you and need help."

"If you were the same--" The voice vibrated Fred's sinuses. Nameless shook his head. "You would be beyond help."

He's making excuses; I am getting to him. "Please, excellency? I can't be one of them, doomed to a peasant's life."

"Ingrate!" Nameless howled. "A peasant's life?--better than you deserve."

Like the satisfaction of watching the sun set of a field freshly plowed by your own hands. Just one of many things that would never be truly his. He would not allow himself to dwell on the value of things that belong to others. Fred had seen Felman's behavior in the way horses leap about before finally accepting the rider. "I aspire to be wise, like you."

Nameless's laugh shook the flame in the torches on the fence. "You are a fool."

Everything seemed to grow about him, and look down on him. "Not leaving! You must teach me."

"Suit yourself, but stay out of the way of my visitors."

Fred laughed. Each year, by law, no more than four could visit--and never twice. There would be no other visitors for months--at least, no living visitors. "You can't scare me."

"If that were true, young man, you would be a hopeless fool." Nameless turned away.

"Come, excellency? Do not be that way."

"You offer no choice." Nameless shrugged and turned away, pausing to look back from the grand oak door. "Waste your time as you wish; on the subject of distant touch, you know more than I."

Fred fell against the spines of the fence and slipped down to the black dirt.

With Fred napping against the fence, the sun rose and set before Fred tried once again to open the lock. This time, a disembodied laugh echoed about as the lock snapped back into place.

Fred sat fidgeting for hours against the gate. He paced back and forth as the shadows of the gray-leafed trees crawled across the pathway between the brambles leading down the hill.

Every time he came up close to one of the bushes, he looked around to see an amused female face in the shadows, hand over her mouth.

A second and third day came before Nameless returned. A tray of food floated beside him. "I bring food."

"Thank you!" Fred grabbed at the bars of the gate. "I am famished."

"If you agree to leave," Nameless said, and waited a few seconds, "then may you partake."

His stomach growled fiercely, but he shook his head. The laws were clear. "Then, I could not return for another year."

Nameless's hood bobbed up and down.

Nameless's jealousy would not deter him. "There is room for many more wizards in this world."

"You misunderstand." Nameless waved the tray onward, toward Fred; it floated through the gate as if through mist. "Your apprenticeship has begun. You must eat of the tray, and return home, educated."

Fred glared at Nameless, and turned to sit down with his back to the gate.

The feast hovered in front of him, suddenly full of warm breads and meats.

Fred's stomach growled and his hands shook. At last, he covered his eyes.

Nameless chuckled, a noise like thunder.

Steam rolled over Fred's face, smelling of figs and pork, bread and butter. "If you are to live, you must eat. This knowledge--that I do not have--is it worth your life?"

Eyes wide, Fred seized the tray with both hands. In truth, he thought of eating it all, down to the wood of the tray, then threw it at Nameless.

The tray, like a sheet of water, flowed through the bars of the gate.

Certain he had passed this test, Fred stood triumphant.

Nameless pointed behind Fred. The feast hovered behind him, larger and more delightful.

A pain ran through Fred's heart and stomach until he let the most mournful howl he could imagine. He stopped his hand inches above one of the rolls, and whined.

"In temptation, there is wisdom--a lesson you fail."

That rang flat. Fred wrinkled his nose.

"Almost fool enough to follow my path. Unfortunately, your gift lives outside my expertise."

Fred stood there, whimpering. "You think I am one of the peasants, not good enough to teach."

"Truly, no. The gap between us is as wide as that between you and the villagers." Nameless strode through the gate without unlocking it, to stand behind Fred. "I would teach, if I knew."

Fred turned and looked into the shadows beneath Nameless's cowl. "Please, I need food."

Nameless nodded. "I release the conditions. Take all you want, without fear of banishment."

Fred grabbed for the bread, which moved about his fingers like smoke.

Nameless reached to the tray and picked up an apple. "Piteous peasant."

Fred tried again and again, to grab a pear, a plum, a cut of meat. His fingers passed through them like the surface of water.

The color drained from him, like clouds covering the sun and plunging a world into stormy darkness. "You are a cruel man, not worthy of respect."

Nameless smiled. "You have learned something." He bit into the apple, and turned toward his manor.

Fred stood up and started to walk home, but stopped in the middle of the dead end road. "I see what you're doing. It won't work."

Nameless raised his brow. "You see nothing."

Would Nameless ever stop playing games? Fred looked at him, curling his lips. "Nothing to see."

"The book would speak if you were meant to read it."

Another day passed, and Nameless hovered over the sleeping Fred, holding out an apple and a large roll. "Eat, boy."

Fred ignored him.

"No more necromancy. Real food."

He seemed serious. Fred reached up.

His fingers gripped the apple, his teeth bit into it and his mouth watered.

"Passed your test."

"Failed, rather." Nameless gestured for Fred to follow. "So we must do this the hard way."

Fred rose, and stumbled about.

"Careful, you're dehydrated." Nameless handed him a waterskin.

"I've shown my determination."

Nameless nodded, and led Fred past the skeletal guards--were they statues?--at the front door. They passed through halls lit by candles held by no visible hand.

They came to a courtyard, adorned with blackened, wilted rose bushes. The blooms looked dry as paper. In the center there was a stone bed with shackles on it.

"Am I to be a sacri--"

Nameless nodded. "Not in such. Kneel before the altar."

Fred forced his shaking legs to lower him.

"You offer only determination."

"But, I have...." Nameless knew all his objections; he had nothing to say.

Nameless waited for him to finish. "Place your hands before me, wrists up."

Fred did so, looking up at the Nameless One's shadowed eyes, plumbing the unnatural shadows of the sorcerer's hood for the eyes that judged him.

"I've no talent for your art; how am I to train you?"

Fred did not want to give up. "You must know something!"

"My mind is a deep and tainted well, but not so terrible as the knowledge of those whom I can hear."

Fred's blood ran cold and he began to tremble.

Nameless brushed Fred's shoulder, his voice softened. "Your bones have more wisdom than your mind."

Fred shook his head.

Nameless knelt on one knee beside the young man, and urged him, "Leave. Run. Obey the wisdom in your bones, the greater legacy."

Fred took a deep breath, and held his hands in the prescribed place.

Nameless shook his head and took his place on the other side. "There will be a price for instruction, boy."

"All apprentices--"

"First, you must farm my land."

It would be a long season, and the Nameless one would refuse to teach anything until he had done this. Fred slumped.

"All of the lower acres must be farmed, regardless of your condition, such that they would bear crops before the harvest."

Relief, however slight, flooded his veins. "I can do that."

"Do not be so quick." Nameless strode forward. "For if you break the pact, I will take my vengeance."

"I would never--"

"As I have sold away my name, if you default, I will steal yours, and seize your seeming."

Fred dropped his jaw.

"Now is the time to balk. Once I take you in, the stroke cannot be undone."

"I will do it, Nameless Lord."

"If you fail, everything that is yours will be mine: your farm, your wife--your unborn child. I will have a name to use, boy; it will be Fred, son of Darla and Knute."

"That will not happen."

"The initiation will mark you. You will curse me even before the sun reaches the top of the sky."

"I said I will do it."

"There is one more thing I take from you, to be returned only upon your ascension--your learning of your first lesson."

"I will do it."

"Then close your eyes, boy, for if you dodge you shall never have another chance."

He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and folded his hands in his lap.

"Hands on the table."

His hands went cold and numb, and twitched as he tried to comply before Fred shook his head.

"Excellent. Return to your village, and no harm."

Slowly, with force of will, Fred put his hands back into place.

A sensation like ice at his wrists, then fire. He opened his eyes to see a crystalline scimitar where his hands should be. The blade faded into nothingness and a black-burning torch lowered to seal the stumps closed.

The wrists only hurt for a moment as the enchanted flame licked at the wound. "Gods! What treachery? Did you want my wife that bad?"

"No treachery." Nameless's cold laugh echoed through the manor. It seemed a thousand voices laughed, mocking Fred. "Though I ache for such a thing, you can still perform your service."

"How can I farm without hands?"

"Far more easily than with them."

"What maddening is this?"

"I warned you, I knew nothing of your magic," Nameless one chided, binding Fred's severed wrists with shimmering black cloth. "The spirits suggest you may have the power to do this."

"I know nothing of..."

"If you would protect your wife, then you must." Nameless shrugged. "If you must, perhaps you can."

Fred's hands scurried around the ground, following the Nameless one like spidery pets as the bandages further soothed Fred's stumps.

The Nameless One had sold far more than his name. His soul had fled, leaving him more vicious than a rabid jackal. For the first time Fred understood the villager's fear. Tears welled up in Fred's eyes, and he grabbed a bandage with his will, to wipe his eyes. "What have I done."

"You have set upon a new destiny, taken a place in my home--and most likely, given yours to someone who will truly appreciate it."

Fred sat in the center of the barren red field, almost too far away to see the white stucco walls that bounded it. The strange, rusted iron plow sat stuck in the dirt. It hurt to touch the plough with his stump. It hurt, up to his shoulders, even to reach out and push on the plow.

He pointed his arm, and pushed with all his will.

Though nearly a yard away, the cold of the iron cut into his wrists and down, deep into his shoulders, causing his muscles to cramp and his eyes to water. After a moment, the effort drained him and the ground rose up to batter his knees. The soft earth clung to him as he remained there, huffing and shaking.

The plow, too heavy for Fred, would never respond to the force within him. With his hands, he could have farmed a parcel like this himself, though his own lands would suffer. Forgetting his condition, he picked up a fist-sized rock and flung it at the stubborn device.

The stone flew true, hitting the handle.

The plough handle bent and the ornery device moved farther that way than before.

Helpless, he glowered at the farm implement. The metal resisted him, forcing Fred to burn out his energy without progress. He could never farm the place with his magic. He walked over to the remnants of the stone he had thrown, and battered them together as he thought, absently forming stone knives.

As each strike flaked off the natural shape of the stone, revealing the jagged edge beneath, so too did a bit of civilization fall free of Fred. Each stroke further revealed the enraged barbarian within. He would do anything to stop the crimes Nameless would commit, upon himself, and upon Cardena. At last, he could contain his rage no longer. As though the earth beneath him were Nameless Felman's throat, Fred hurled his stones into the dirt, and cut a stripe in them a yard long before they flew out of the dirt and rolled across the way.

He imagined the bleeding, rasping cry of the dread necromancer. An evil smile came over Fred's features.

At that moment, Nameless Felman appeared behind him. "You have achieved a victory, young Fred."

Fred turned, screamed in rage, pulling at the stone blades.

Slowly, ever so slowly they rolled toward him.

"Looks as though you will need to be mindful of range." Nameless gestured at the stones, and they came, carried by an unseen man. "Keep the stones ever near you."

When they came in range, Fred willed them to fly at Nameless Felman.

The stones stopped short inches from Nameless's face, and then hovered before Fred.

Nameless shook his head, frowning. "If only."

Without thought, Fred reached up and grabbed them. The sharp edges cut against unseen palms and the stones hung in the air as though his hands had been turned to glass.

Nameless nodded approval. "Progress."

"What sort of game are you playing?" Fred asked.

"The game you demanded." He stepped forward. "Ready to conceed, to grant me your face? I am lonely, and your wife no doubt is also."

He imagined Nameless walking in, his loyal wife accepting any violation Nameless might perpetrate in Fred's name. "You stay away from her!"

Nameless grinned. "A pity you did not have that passion for her when you contracted with me."

His feral expression unnerved and frightened Fred, who felt the world coming apart. Why had he agreed to such terms? "You have no decency?"

"Allow me to borrow your seeming. I will go to her, to reassure her, while there is still time."

"N..." Fred looked at Nameless, whose cold black eyes stared more aggressively than the statues in the graveyard. "Oh, no you don't. Do you think I am stupid?"

Felman nodded. "Those minds smart enough to master magicianry usually find their way to better Arts."

"I am clever enough to know not to give you my seeming."

"Wise words," Nameless Felman nodded. "Clever enough to sculpt stone daggers. Are you wise enough to envision a stone ox?"

"You need another sculpture?"

Nameless shrugged, and removed his hood. "You must find some way to harness your power." He set out two stone chalices on a stump, and poured a drink.

Nameless's gaunt face and sunken eyes did little to humanize him in Fred's eyes. Fred eyed the poisoned cups, and took one.

Nameless drank from the other.

Fred splashed the drink in Nameless's face. "You don't need to poison me."

"You think me immune to the venom." He smiled, his eyebrows drew up in the middle as he dabbed himself with a handkerchief. "I am lonely, and had hoped for a moment of camaraderie."

"And I had hoped for proper tuition."

"You have what you need; of that, I have been assured."

Now Nameless was trying to get out of the deal. "You have been assured?" Fred stood up suddenly.

"You don't know with whom you are dealing."

"Why do you never say anything?"

"I say what I am told," Nameless said, walking away. He looked over his shoulder, and whispered, "If I think the harm is slight."

"Told? By whom?"

"Those who have passed beyond." Nameless waved his hands, as if pointing to a crowd of people that Fred could not see.

"I mean, do they have to be riddles?"

"Sometimes I speak as clearly as I should." Nameless shrugged. "Sometimes, only so clearly as I can."

"That's really helpful."

"The truth rarely comes when it is needed."

Any child of the Father of Harvests knew things had to be prepared in advance. The image of seeds being sown took root. Like channels tilled in his mind, Nameless's work had begun. Still, Fred could not say if he were the field, or the crop. Would he be cut down and consumed? The confusion of symbols, more than the danger, made Fred glare at Nameless as the robed necromancer disappeared into the morning mist.

The moonlight shone in Fred's eyes even as the shadow of Nameless's cursed plow fell upon his chest. Shaking in the cold and despairing of sleep, Fred swore an oath to the Father of Harvests and began to think.

The leather of his sleeves would be strong enough to carry the handles. Perhaps they would not resist his power so much. He willed them off of his shirt. At his behest, the stitches pulled out one by one. Once free, the leather tubes slipped over the handles.

With that, he reached up to the handles. The grip of his ghost hands felt better, as though holding a blade with sturdy gloves. His stomach lurched, but only slightly, and only until he squeezed his eyes shut.

He pushed as long and as hard as he could before taking a rest, refusing to look how far he had gotten. The sun had not risen. Only the faintest tinge of violet told him that dawn approached.

"Clever, my apprentice." Felman stood behind him. "But half an hour will hardly suffice."

"I..." Fred rested against the foul device even as it bled him. "Just need a bit of a rest."

"You need more than rest. Pushing a plow will not make you a sorcerer, nor will it repay your debt to me."

Fred ignored the precious hint in favor of an attack. "It will keep you from stealing my wife."

"It may." Nameless gave a nod, and began to wander off. "If it does, I have failed."

"That's my goal."

"But, why should it be?"

How could it be any clearer? Helpless to answer through clenched teeth, Fred flung a rock at the back of Nameless's head.

The rock stopped and fell to the ground. "You must learn under whose shadow you actually fight, and why."

Fred followed behind him. "You put me here."

"If you insist." Nameless shrugged. "Then we fail."

"What are you talking about?"

"I did not cast you into this pit of vipers." Nameless stopped for a moment, waited for Fred to stand beside him. "You face a far greater enemy."

"There's nobody else, just you and me."

Nameless leaned forward. "Exactly."

"Then who is this mythical enemy?"

Nameless sighed, and slumped. "I tire of this nattering, apprentice. Return to your dilemma."

Fred came from the front of the plow, and gripped his leather sleeves. It felt easier to pull, in the way that it feels good to shift a weight to your weaker hand if it has been rested. He looked at the pitiful furrow in the ground, and around at the large plot of land.

At this rate, he would be deep into the winter before he had planted all the crop. He slumped against the plow, letting its dark energy chill his bones. "What have I done?"

Tears fell into his spirit hands and through his fingers.

Black clad as if in mourning for Fred, Cardena shrieked at the sight of him. "Your hands! What has he done to your beautiful hands."

"He said he would teach me."

"Get away from me." She pulled the door.

Fred held the door. "But Cardena, I am your husband."

"I do not know who you are, or what."

"You do know me, Cardena."

Her wide eyes scanned him, and her mouth curled as she tried to look away. "No man in my family would trade with the Nameless."

"Help me, my love. I need to plow his land. Can I get a horse or..."

"I banish you! Begone, foul spirit." She spattered him with the contents of a small bottle.

"Cardena, please, you must."

Draped in black in honor of Fred's supposed death, Jodemer the woodsman pushed Cardena aside. He grabbed his ax from beside the door. "Begone, spirit. Trouble your widow no more."

A shiver went down Fred's back. She would never allow a man in his home so long as he were alive. Had he really died on Felman Hill? Perhaps only his spirit had entered Felman's manor. No, this was more of their superstitious nonsense, an excuse to take what belonged to Fred. He told himself that it wasn't so bad; at least, Cardena knew the truth of Jodemer. "I will have my father's horse."

"That is for the living." The man brandished the ax. "Unless your master can protect you against steel."

He had to make Cardena understand. "Then Nameless will take you as his bride."

"Begone, trickster. We will hear no more of your maddening."

"I can't leave, not like this."

"But, you will leave." Cardena pushed through to the door. "If not like this, like smoke in the wind. Don't make us burn your corpse on the pyre."

That would strip his soul from his remains, leaving him beyond even the reach of Felman. "But we don't--"

"Don't go to Felman Hill, either." She shook her fist. "When a soul has corrupted beyond hope, then...."

At last he saw his mangled body in true light. He had only managed to broaden the chasm between him and the villagers. Tears blurred the world as he turned and ran, throwing his hands up in front of him and running straight toward a wall.

A cold hand guided him through the darkness as, blinded by tears, Fred staggered toward Felman's necropolis.

In the darkness ahead, three points of light bounced about. A skull's eyes and nose, windows on a steel lantern, swung in Felman's left hand.

The gloom revealed only the outline of Felman, a towering wraith who stepped to the side and laid a warm hand on Fred's shoulder.

A dark shape laid off the side of the path, huddling just as Fred had, exactly where Fred had been when Nameless had finally given him food.

"Is that...?" Fredek feared to even to suggest that it might be his body. Surely some spirit lay there to mock him, to plant the seed in Fred's mind that death had already taken him. "Is that me?"

Nameless put his hand on his apprentice's head and stroked him, gently urging away from the concerning vision. Nameless's hands, far warmer than they should have been, both welcomed and guided. As they walked silently along, Fred released the tears he did not know he had been holding back.

The next day Fred woke in a bed. As he blinked awake, the lamp flared to life and a tray of food hovered toward him and settled on the nightstand.

Fred had never seen the room, never had a chamber assigned to him. He looked down and noticed himself wearing white silk bedclothes. Searching for his day clothes, he rubbed his eyes and looked about.

On the cobblestone wall hung three robes--one brown, one cream, and one black. Nothing else.

"Salsheama will be some time fashioning a new set of sleeves, even though the spirit has her advantage with the needle." Felman stood outside the door. "May I enter?"

"It is your manor."

"Behind this door I am either intruder, or guest. At your word."

"I'd no idea I warranted a room."

"A fellow's labors are sacred." Felman shook his head. "Especially a new fellow."

"Are you mad?" Fred stood, and took up the darkest robe in the wall. "I have no idea what you are about."

"If you thought your knowledge sufficient," Felman said, turning to leave, "why ever would you come to me?"

Following the many candles that lit as he turned each corner, Fred found his way to the field. The ghastly plow sat at the end of the final furrow he had dug, with a finely crafted harness sewn of his sleeves. He looked at the place with a farmer's eye.

Less than a quarter of the field had been prepared. The red-tinged soil sat dry and lifeless beneath him. It had not been tended in years. The plow looked dark and ancient. It too had not been used since before his father's time.

Among magicians, Fred and his father barely knew their spoons, but farmers respected them as wizards. No man planted a single seed after his father called no harvest, and Fred if anything had been still better. Though Fred had lost count of the days, his bones throbbed, warning of deadline. It would take weeks to finish, leaving most of the crop to die before it came ready. The harvest would fail, Felman would have his prize. Fred slouched and tried to cry.

Yet no tears came. Fred could plant up to that final moment, but neither the task nor Felman would respond to desperate measures. Fred could play the victim, shake his fist at Felman's cruelty or his own foolishness at coming here. Somehow, the thought came to him that none of these were the point.

That insane thought brought comfort which Fred could not bear to argue away. Better to be insane in this insane land, he decided. "The cruelty of a man that did not mock me upon my return."

The clouds parted, and the sunlight played upon the morning dew, shining a beautiful cinnamon color on the dew-soaked earth.

The echo of Fred's words continued in his head, and his barely-literate mind fancied them written in the squiggles on the clouds or the jagged edge of the distant mountains. "...did not mock me..."

"You did not even say you told me so." Fred glared at the ground, and at the plow. He smiled at his robes, and shook his finger at the plow. "You are the tool of a farmer. But I'm not supposed to be a farmer here, am I?"

Nothing happened. A bird flew over, avoiding Felman's necropolis as though some fence kept it away.

Hoping for a word of encouragement, even a pat on the back for solving the mystery, Fred looked around.

As the clouds blew over and various birds flew around the necropolis, Fred came to realize that he had only discovered the question, not solved the mystery.

"How would a wizard plant his crop?"

"Is not the plow to your liking?"

"If it were the right answer, I would be done."

A fog rolled in, tinged red and burning his throat.

"I had nothing to do with this." Felman held a handkerchief to his mouth. "Just breathe deep, so the brimstone fog will do less damage."

"What have you done?"

"I asked for help in teaching you." He grabbed under Fred's arms, to hold him when he passed out.

"I don't understand."

Fred woke moments before the moment of no harvest; his bones throbbed like the swinging of a pendulum. He lay in a rope hammock. Looking between the ropes, he spied a bag of seed.

The ghosts holding his hammock lowered him gently to the ground.

He rose to his feet in a rage. "Felman, you lying trickster! You have betrayed me."

"They assure me there is yet time."

Fred's mind reached into the bag of seed. "Can your spirits deflect ten thousand assaults?" He spewed them as violently as he could at Felman's face, eventually drawing blood.

Seeing what he had done, his jaw dropped. "If you can't, then neither can the soil." He dug in with his spirit fingers, and hurled the seeds at the ground, drawing a line in the ground.


For a split second, Fred stood confused as he thought of beads of ice raining down on the ground all about him.

Now, instead of a stream, he threw them up in an arc, to spread over the ground in sheets.

"You have done it," Felman said, putting his hand on Fred's shoulder.

A cold feeling spread over Fred. Nothing would come of this planting. At least, nothing worth harvesting. He shook his head. "Too late."

"By a thousand years. The land is dead. But you have learned to plant like a sorcerer."

"You never had anything to gain."

"Only a friend." Felman gestured for two hands to walk up behind Fred, trailing elbow-length gloves, and stand at his feet. Felman blotted the blood on his face. "Art and Sin, meet your father Fred."

"Fred is no longer with us."

"So soon, you wish to take a new name?"

"So soon? It has been wrong my entire life." He looked at Felman and pointed at his master's face. "Aren't you going to mention the, um?"

Felman put his hand on Fred's shoulder. "A swordsman does not much rebuke the page when the sword slips."

"That was no slip."

"It is enough that you see what you have done, my boy." He pushed Fred toward the manor house. "Now that you understand yourself as a sorcerer, however dimly, we can begin to plot against your enemy."

"You keep talking about my enemy, but there is only the two of us."

"Let us say that you are not ready to bury Fred until you have broken his grip on you."

"I do not understand."

"That is why I am here, my boy."

Thus began the story of Fredek Four Gloves.

Sorry no autoreward, this one has been abused. Please mention this comment for a thousand gp award (award to those who show they've read the piece.) My judgment only. This in addition to discretionary awards that may be made for insight.
© Copyright 2020 Joto-Kai (jotokai at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
Writing.Com, its affiliates and syndicates have been granted non-exclusive rights to display this work.
Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2220341-The-Time-of-No-Harvest