The Wind That Shakes The Barley

on September 4, 2007 in Other Tales

The nymph stepped out from the field of barley. That’s what we’ll call her in this story, for the sake of convenience and sanity: Barley. It was the name which she would eventually take for herself, anyway, though at this point she could identify herself only with a fleeting set of impressions: a feel of autumn sunlight on the brow, a quick brush of breeze on the skin… the merest hint of the wind that shakes the barley in fall.

She stepped out of her field and into the adjoining field of five-foot-tall stalks topped with pinkish purple flowers. She walked through the densely-packed amaranth without effort, though several times her bare foot encountered unexpected resistance as she stepped on or tripped over the edge of a heavy book, hidden among the plants.

There was a clear space near the center of the field, a ring of open ground which surrounded an even denser concentration of appreciably taller amaranth plants. There were books heaped everywhere here, and another nymph lay on her side, her back propped against a long stack of them like it was the back of a couch. An encyclopedia lay open in front of her, also propped up against another stack of books. Her hair was the same harvest gold as Barley’s, her skin the same sun-brushed shade… but she was somewhat taller, and noticeably thicker and more generously curved. Where Barley wore nothing, she wore a pair of thick-lensed glasses.

The nymph, whom we shall have to call Amaranth, had her hand between her legs. She was absently teasing herself with slow, smooth motions that more often stayed outside than strayed in. If she had been more repetitive, the action might have seemed reflexive or mechanical. Instead, it seemed to simply be second nature to her.

“Hey,” Barley said.

“Oh, hello!” Amaranth said, brightly, her hand still working idly away. “How are you?”

“I tripped over your books all the way in,” Barley said. “Why don’t you put some of them Away?”

She didn’t exactly say the word “away”, though… she didn’t exactly say anything, as the nymphs had no word for the place they sometimes found it necessary put things.

“I’m using them,” Amaranth said, somewhat absently. Her gaze drifted back to the encyclopedia. “I’ll put them Away when I’m done with them.”

“How can you be using all of these books?” Barley asked, gesturing around the clearing.

Amaranth looked up at that, her hand frozen with one fingernail skimming the line between her labia.

“These are the ones I think might need to read something in sometime soon,” she explained. “I’ve got loads more that I’m pretty sure I won’t need for a while, and they’re all put Away.”

“Exactly how many books do you have now, anyway?” Barley asked her.

Amaranth shrugged indifferently.

“Every time I try to count them, I end up finding one I want to read again,” she said. She settled back into her book, and herself.

“Are you just going to keep doing that the whole time I’m here?” Barley asked.

“Doing what?” Amaranth asked, looking up again.

“Playing with yourself like that,” Barley said. “You’d think nobody ever taught you how to get yourself off! Don’t you remember what I showed you?”

“Oh, I haven’t forgotten,” Amaranth said. “I’m just…” She shivered a little bit at her own touch, not so much in pleasure but with the effort of repressing it. “I’m just trying… something… new.”

“Doesn’t look like it’s working,” Barley said doubtfully.

Amaranth gave an uneven little smile that might have been her attempt at a facial shrug, and might have just been a reaction to her ongoing exertions.

“I feel that the quality of the sexual experience is as important as the quantity,” she said. “I sometimes think that with all the time we put into our work, we risk losing sight of that… so when I get a little time to myself, I like to take things slow and really explore the limits of sensation. Anyway, how are we going to learn anything new if we’re not willing to experiment a little?”

“That sounds like a page from this junk you’ve been reading lately,” Barley said, picking up a couple of books off the nearest pile. “‘The Power of Scientific Reasoning’… ‘Lightning and Lodestones: Elec… Electro…magnetism Revealed’. Where did you get this rubbish?”

“It isn’t rubbish,” Amaranth said. “It’s fascinating.”

“What would Mother Khaele think if she saw you reading this stuff?” Barley demanded.

“She said it was okay,” Amaranth said, sounding a little wounded.

“She… you mean, you saw her again?” Barley asked, flabbergasted. “When?”

“She came to visit me yesterday,” Amaranth said.

Barley blinked as if she’d been slapped.

“She didn’t come to see me,” she said.

“Or maybe a few days before that,” Amaranth said, not noticing Barley’s reaction. “You know, I don’t really know how long it was.” She stopped and thought a few moments. “It can’t have been yesterday, because I know I’ve had sex about a dozen times since then… what day is it today?”

“Um… Thursday,” Barley said.

“Oh!” Amaranth said. “Then it was yesterday.”

“I’ve only had sex a dozen times in the last week,” Barley said sourly.

“You should come over again some time, like you used to. Remember?” Amaranth said. “I don’t mind sharing. Or I could send some of my extras to you instead of making them wait. You know, I bet you’d get more callers if you let them do you in the butt, and then the mouth.” She giggled. “They really seem to like that.”

“They didn’t used to care about that sort of thing, before you started doing it,” Barley said. “And… I hear you’ve been letting the men beat you again, too.”

“I wouldn’t say beating, exactly,” she said. “It’s really more like caning… and I’m not letting them so much as begging for it… and anyway, it’s all in fun, so where’s the harm?”

“Well, you know I really don’t mind a little rough play myself,” Barley said. “But some of the wives are concerned that you’re taking it too far, and that you’re going to give their men bad ideas.”

“Well, I think some of the wives could afford to take some ideas from us,” Amaranth said. “Anyway, it’s not like I can create a violent impulse where there is none, is it? For men who enjoy this kind of… vigorous activity… isn’t it better that they find a healthy outlet for it?”

“You know, I didn’t actually come here to talk about our sex lives,” Barley said.

That seemed to take Amaranth aback, to the point where she even stopped masturbating.

“Oh,” she said. “Well… what do you want to talk about, then?”

“It’s just… well,” Barley said, struggling to find the words. “Do you ever think about leaving this field?”

“I do… I go into town,” Amaranth said. “And to the hilltop shrine.”

“For festivals and feast days,” Barley said. “You never just take a stroll down the lane, though. You never go visiting, just because you feel like it.”

“I come over to your field sometimes,” Amaranth said.

‘Yeah… I know,” Barley said, through gritted teeth. “But, I mean… have you ever even walked across the road to see what was in the ditch there?”

“Why, is there something interesting in it?” Amaranth asked.

“Not really,” Barley said. “A bunch of weeds and a dead bird, last time I checked. But on the other side of the ditch, there’s trees, and on the other side of the trees…”

“…is a little hill,” Amaranth said. “I know. I’ve heard all about it. You know, Bert gave me a map of the whole valley once. Or was it Clyde?” She giggled. “I don’t really remember. But it looked really pretty. It’s Away right now, but I could get it Out if you wanted…”

“I don’t want to look at a map of the valley,” Barley said. “I don’t want to look at pictures of the world. I don’t want to read about it in books. I want to go out there and see it.”

“But, Barley…” Amaranth said. “You’ve got your field. You’ve got your work. The people here need us.”

“They do,” Barley agreed. “So they should be willing to cut me a little bit of slack if I ask for it. I’m going to talk to the council and see if the town will send me away to college. I think if I learn up on modern magical farming techniques, and use that to help improve the valley, then there shouldn’t be any problem with using the community funds for it.”

“But, you haven’t even been to high school,” Amaranth pointed out.

“There’s an equivalency test,” Barley said. “I’ll borrow some books from the teachers…”

“Oh!” Amaranth said happily. “I have loads of books. Why not just use some of mine?”

Barley rolled her eyes.

Textbooks, dear sister… actual certified sources of knowledge, not a bunch of made-up stories and scientific nonsense that should have been thrown out in the dark ages,” Barley said. “I’m sure I’ll have to study my ass off… I mean, I know I’m smart, but there’s certain things you just don’t pick up fucking farm boys in a field. It’s going to be hard work, but I know I can do this.”

“So, where do you think you’ll go?” Amaranth asked her. “South Province Community College, like Deborah and Zane did?”

“I don’t wanna go to some hick school a half-inch up the Emperor’s Road,” Barley said.

“Barley!” Amaranth said, inflecting the projection of her sister’s identity with a note of disapproval. “Don’t say ‘hick.'”

“Well, whatever you want to call it, I’m setting my sights a little higher,” she said. “One of the major schools of magic, I think… my first thought was the Mezzokhaldean Institute of Thaumatology, but… I don’t really want just a technical education. And I could actually do my work from anywhere. It doesn’t have to be in the field.”

“True, but I think you’d probably have to have sex more than a dozen times a week if you’re going to sustain your body and your field at that distance,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think I’d have a problem having sex more often if I wasn’t here,” Barley said sourly.

“True,” Amaranth said. “From what I’ve read about college life, sex is never in short supply… except some times for the intellectual virginal boys, and they always get laid eventually, anyway. Ooh! You could found a charity group: Nookie For Nerds? Or do you think they’d find that insulting? I’ve read conflicting information about whether ‘nerd’ is primarily a term of disparagement or a sort of badge of honor.”

“You’re a nerd,” Barley said, though not completely without affection. “You tell me. Anyway, it’ll probably be a year or more before everything comes together. I just wanted to let you know now, so you’d… you know, have a chance to get used to the idea of me not being around.”

“Yeah, that’ll be… weird,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah,” Barley agreed. “Um… anyway… I’ve got some time. Do you wanna… do you wanna screw around a bit?”

“Oh, totally!” Amaranth said, leaping up and throwing her arms around her sister nymph, who kissed her passionately on the mouth. They fell together, Barley steering Amaranth so that it was her back that hit the book-strewn ground. Amaranth grunted, though in more pleasure than pain. As Barley moved her mouth across her breasts, Amaranth happened to glance up at the position of the sun, and her smile faltered. “Um… I forgot,” she said, moving to gently restrain Barley. “Judy and her boyfriend and his cousin and their friend from out of town are going to come over to do me in a few minutes, actually, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind one more…”

“You know, never mind,” Barley said, getting to her feet. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “If you’re sure…”

She watched Barley go, then set to cleaning up the clearing a bit for her guests… stopping several times when she came across a book she hadn’t looked at recently. She found the map of the valley… not tucked Away at all, but used as a bookmark in a big hardcover omnibus of murder mysteries she didn’t actually remember having started. She pulled it out and let the book drop to the ground, the formerly marked place hopelessly lost.

For the first time, as she gazed over the beautiful hand-painted terrain on her treasured map, she found her eyes for the first time drawn repeatedly to the set of the parallel lines near the bottom of the page… the Emperor’s Road, which lead away from Paradise Valley and to the rest of the world.

“College,” she mused. “That could be interesting. Could be… fun.”



I sat within a valley green
Sat there with my true love
And my fond heart strove to choose between
The old love and the new love
The old for her, the new that made
Me think on Ireland dearly
While soft the wind blew down the glade
And shook the golden barley.
-Robert Dwyer Joyce


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4 Responses to “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”

  1. Moody Mudiaga says:

    Nice poetry! 🙂

    Current score: 0
  2. beappleby says:

    Is the text of the poem supposed to be that small?

    Current score: 0
    • Nope. Some change I made to the CSS at some point has made a lot of text smaller. Figuring out what was one of the things I was going to do yesterday before I re-injured my shoulder. It’s now on my list for tomorrow.

      Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    my first thought was the Mezzokhaldean Institute of Thaumatology,

    Khesus, I just got it, MIT.

    Alexandra’s wit strikes again.

    Current score: 4