Once again, I apologize for the delay in getting this written and posted. There were some technical problems with the site due to the increased traffic I’ve been experiencing. I had to do some streamlining. One change you might notice is that comments no longer automatically load… you have to click on a link to bring them up. This should solve the problems we experienced the last time I had caching turned on, as well as drastically increase the speed at which pages load.
Rosa 3rd, 205
Roy Wilson, an elected foreman of the Paradise Valley Farming Collective, was making a final check of the valley’s newest resident, a cluster of stalks planted in dark, wet soil. Both plants and ground had been hauled there from over a continent away.
In addition to Carson, a farmhand, he’d also brought his nephew Zane along. The boy’s mother had been after him to get out and spend at least some of his summer break out in the fresh air and sunshine, and the boy had shown so much interest in the new field from the moment it had first been proposed at the winter meeting… he’d wanted to see the new barley field before it was seeded, too, but since school had been in session he hadn’t had a chance.
While Roy and Zane checked the ground for rocks, weeds, and any foreign objects that might contaminate it, Carson was “walking” a big roll of blue tarp around a series of wooden poles to create a privacy fence in a wide circle around the stand of plants.
Once the priestess of the mother had consecrated the ground, the men would move in and add their own bit of consecration. They’d get as many volunteers from the valley as they could, both to ensure the most potent calling and to make sure the nymph that was—Khaele Willing—raised would represent a nice blending of a broad cross-section of aesthetics and desires.
The farmers of Paradise Valley had done this dozens of times before, using wisdom handed down for generations. They knew what they were doing.
“What exactly is so special about this ‘aramanth’ stuff, anyway?” Carson asked, stopping to wipe the sweat of the summer sun off his brow.
“Amaranth,” Roy replied. “The elves call it ‘the flower that never fades.’”
“Elves say that?” He whistled. “That’s what you call staying power, right there.”
“Well, there’s a bit of poetic license involved, I’m sure,” Roy said. “But the plant is plenty impressive for all that. It grows fast as weeds, and harvests easy… with seeds that are more filling and more nutritious than any common grain.”
“If it’s so great, why isn’t everybody planting it?” Carson asked.
“Maybe someday, everybody will. Elves do,” Roy said. “But on a small scale… well, they don’t have big production farms like we do. Some people grow it as greenery, but the only humans who cultivate it for food are far to the south. It’s just our good luck that our Juliana’s travels took her to a village that had a nymph and was willing to trade.”
“Seems awfully hasty, though,” Carson said. “I mean, we just brought the barley nymph… what, a year ago?”
“About that,” Roy said. “It was early last Astera, I think. But, we voted on this… and that was after we voted to expand our cultivations quicker in order to keep pace with our population growth.”
“Yeah, but I figured we were talking about every five years or so,” Carson said.
“The council saw an opportunity,” Roy said. “And we all got to have our say.”
“Don’t you think the barley nymph might feel a bit… put out?” Carson asked.
“How so?” Roy asked.
“I don’t know,” Carson said. “But she’s kind of been the belle of the ball, so to speak, and now she’s going to have another newcomer to compete with.”
“I don’t see where there’d be any conflict,” Roy said. “It isn’t like there aren’t men to go around. The roster makes sure each field gets ‘tended’ often enough, and everything after that’s just gravy.”
“Yeah, but, this fall will be the first harvest festival where the new nymph’s strong enough to leave her field,” Carson said. “Don’t you think she might, I don’t know, resent sharing the spotlight?”
“I don’t know,” Roy said, shrugging. “But have you ever known a nymph to be jealous, about anything?”
“Not really,” Carson said. He wiped his forehead again. “Maybe I’ve just been out in the sun too long.”
“I hear that,” Roy said. “Let’s get this wrapped up and… hey, Zane, what are you doing back there?”
His nephew was on the other side of the cluster of amaranth stalks from him, crouched down and rustling the plants. There wasn’t an answer immediately, and Roy repeated the question.
“What?” the boy said. He got to his feet, his hands fumbling around beneath his waist. He reached up quickly to catch his glasses before they slipped down off his nose. The frame of the enchanted eyepieces had been sized for him, but he tended to be careless with them and as a result the arms were rather loose. “I’m… I was just checking. The stalks.” His face was bright red and he sounded out of breath. “They’re all fine,” he added. “Just fine.”
Roy gave him a probing look. The boy’s zipper was down… but then, one of his shoes was untied, as well. He was a pretty unkempt kid, in general.
Anyway, they didn’t tell the children the details of the nymph-raising ritual, so what Roy had momentarily suspected was clearly ridiculous.
“Well, okay, then,” Roy said. “You’d better run along home now. I think we’ve got the ground as clear as it’s going to get.”
“I could stay and help some more,” Zane said. “I don’t mind. I’ll do anything, really.”
“Sorry, lad… I appreciate your pitching in, but you’re far too young to be involved in a nymph-raising,” Roy said. “The next part’s a bit… complicated… for a twelve-year-old.”
“I can handle it,” Zane said. “Really. Give me a chance to show you how mature I can be for my age.”
Roy gave his nephew a patient smile and put his hand on his shoulder. He looked down at him… and was surprised to find that it wasn’t quite as far down as he remembered it being. It was a bit of a cliché, but it was also true: they did grow up so fast.
“The most mature thing a boy your age can do is realize that he isn’t an adult yet, and enjoy the pleasures of youth while he can,” Roy said.
“And let the rest of us enjoy the pleasures of adulthood,” Carson said with a grin.
“Oh, put a sock in it and finish that fence, Carson,” Roy said. “I’m trying to teach the boy something here. Zane, I know everybody and their brother is probably telling you that this should be the best years of your life, and I know right now you think that’s a load of shit… because everybody does, but believe me, it gets better, and you’ll kick yourself later if you don’t take the time to have a little fun now while you’re young. It’s summer vacation…you should be out tearing it up with your friends.”
“I don’t have any friends,” Zane said. “Everybody at school calls me a faggot.”
Carson and Roy shook their heads sadly. They knew Paradise Valley’s growth had somewhat diminished the spirit of friendly, small town living, but it was disheartening to be confronted with evidence of it.
That wasn’t to say that there hadn’t been any bullying when they were in school. More like playful ribbing, actually, Roy thought. It had all been in good fun, and the kids who were the usual targets had known that.
Not at all like it was today.
“Well,” Roy said. “You aren’t, are you?”
Roy knew the sort of reading material his nephew favored. His room was covered in posters of comic book characters of the busty and scantily clad variety. No doubt he had a stash of more explicit material that he kept hidden, too… Paradise Valley was a fairly progressive place but a boy’s own mother could only be expected to be so progressive about some things.
“No,” Zane said.
“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about,” Roy said. “Just… let it wash over you. Think of the River Aranaska… or the nymph who lives in it.” He chuckled. “I know you think life is terrible now, but trust me, by the time you come of age, this’ll all be a distant memory. Think of this time as the struggle you have to undergo to earn the rewards of adulthood.”
“It isn’t a struggle for everybody else,” Zane said bitterly.
“Oh, I expect if you could walk around in their heads for a bit, you’d find out otherwise,” Roy said. “Everybody’s got problems. Yours just seem so much worse because they’re yours. Run along now… and get that shoe tied up before you trip.”
Zane, realizing he was defeated, tied his shoelace in a big sloppy knot, fixed his glasses again, and then headed down the gently sloping valley towards the small farmhouse where he lived with his mother.
He didn’t know if what he had done would make a difference, but he’d keep sneaking back at night, making his own contribution and praying, with every fiber of his being and with every bit of himself he could muster up, that this nymph would be different.
She would be smart, and understanding, and kind. She wouldn’t judge. She wouldn’t care what anybody thought, what everybody said about him. She would be really, truly, properly beautiful like the women in his comics, big and busty, not all skinny like the newer nymphs or gross and fat like the older ones.
She would never laugh at somebody because they were a little clumsy, or because they wanted to believe in something crazy. She would never call them a creep because they were turned on by something that was kind of… well, by anything. She would let him do anything, the things he’d heard about or read about on the crystal ball, the things he’d guessed or imagined.
She would be different.
That was Zane’s prayer, and he repeated it not just when he went to the field late at night, but when he was alone in the bathroom or in his bed under the covers.
The new nymph took a whole week to show herself, the second longest germination that even the oldest of the valley’s human residents could remember. They joked that she was shy, though that shyness certainly didn’t last long.
Zane, who turned thirteen a month after the nymph arrived, never followed through on his plans to sneak out and visit her. For one thing, she had a constant stream of visitors at all hours of the night.
For another, he couldn’t get over the fear that she would laugh at him, or simply send him away. He didn’t know if the nymphs knew the rules, or if they were bound to obey them, but he couldn’t face that kind of rejection.
Not from the one who was supposed to be different.
So, Zane suffered in silence… but, amazingly, life did get better.
He had his first girlfriend when he was fifteen. When he was seventeen, he graduated from Paradise Valley High School, and by the time his eighteenth birthday rolled around that summer, he was working outside the valley to help pay for college.
His friends took him to the fields for the traditional rite of passage, but he was too embarrassed by the distant memory of going to the amaranth field at night to even think of visiting that particular nymph.
He availed himself of the barley nymph instead, and–at the urgings of his friends–a couple of the rice nymphs down in water. He had fun, but he also had work in the morning.
Ultimately, he left the valley never knowing if his tampering with the new field had made any difference, if his prayer had been answered.
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