© Geoff Brookes 2014
Chapter 1 – Harvest
Anders wearily lifted his right arm backwards and upwards, straining his shoulder, back and side. Pausing briefly on his backstroke, he brought the scythe neatly forward, slitting the air before making contact with the stalks of wheat. His arm and the scythe were as one. He swung again and again. The blade, blunt from the long day’s repeated thrusts, yielded ever fewer heads of grain for the sack drooping below his left arm – as weary as his right. The heads sometimes flew off the stalks from the force of impact, rather than from the slice of the scythe. Overshooting the bag, the grains and broken stalks fell beyond hope to the messy floor of earth and plant scraps.
“Damn scythe! Butter knife! Agh!” Anders growled, barely avoiding being heard by the gross-man, about two fields away. He now swung the scythe ruthlessly and dangerously, reaping little grain but releasing his anger. “If the damned-fool gross-man would get the scythes sharpened, he would have doubled his harvest and saved my back and shoulder for tomorrow’s work as well!”
“Anders! Keep your voice down! You’re the fool if he hears you! It won’t be any easier for you if he does!” Anatoly whispered sharply from three rows to Anders’ left.
“Phft!” interjected Anders’ father, Patrick, on Anders’ right, with a withering look of shock and disgust at their noise. He motioned with his left hand across his neck. The bag in Patrick’s left hand swung crazily from the motion of his gesture and from the forward turn of his body, as if to emphasize Patrick’s displeasure at Anders’ outburst so close to the time of trumpeting. The bag’s comical movements mimicked Patrick’s parental instruction, as though it was Anders’ younger sibling, out of Patrick’s line of sight.
Anders took a deep breath, Anatoly grimaced, and the two boys resumed their nearly silent toil.
Eggheads, they were called by some of the village boys. Anatoly and Anders were happy with their own company – and with that of the wizard Ginome. The wizard had taught them how to read and write. The two boys had realized belatedly how rare and valuable the paper, quill-pens and ink might be that Ginome had provided for them, but Ginome had insisted that they should have it – and that they should use it to practice writing every chance they had! Anatoly and Anders had wondered where the written manuscripts had come from. Some of them looked to be very old. Sometimes they were strangely written, although most of them used the same language as theirs. Ginome had to explain what some words meant in all of the manuscripts – the oldest-looking ones were more difficult. And some were in a different language altogether, which Anders and Anatoly were just beginning to learn. They were amazed to see that many of the words were similar or identical to their own language, while others were completely different.
Ginome would bring them a new set of books every other fortnight, except at the planting and harvesting times. Ginome would explain who wrote the books, and when they were written, but the boys did not remember this information as much as they remembered the stories in the books themselves. Some of the manuscripts were laws decreed by a king named Archelaus. The boys had begged Ginome to tell them about the old kings.
“Allright, allright, all in good time, but I suppose tonight is as good a night as any”, he would chuckle and smile broadly. Anders and Anatoly were astounded at Ginome’s seemingly endless knowledge of the history of their people. They felt overwhelmed by their feeling of joy in gaining this knowledge about their land, “Panginis”. They could read this for themselves in these amazing scripts of their ancestors – or at least, some of it.
They had practiced writing on the paper that Ginome brought them. For fun, Ginome also taught them to write words on maple tree leaves in the late summer. If the leaves had dried just the right amount, the ink did not run too badly.