The Hero From Meridell: Part One
Also by bestpet21
That was the only thought on Zamrin's mind as he trudged through the knee-high, dew-laden potato crops. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, almost as if it was hesitant to show its presence for fear of the young, yellow-furred Kacheek's sullen temper. Zamrin glared at it menacingly through his fingers and wished it could come up behind him instead. Having to charge into the sunlight that hurt his eyes and stung on his brow certainly did not add to his mood. Fighting the urge to complain aloud to himself, he pulled his foot out of the squishy mud left from last night's rain. Walking in this field was almost impossible. Zamrin was sure he would walk straight into a patch of quicksand at any minute.
He wanted to quit and go back inside for the day, but he knew he couldn't. This year's crops were growing poorly, and if he did not tend to them every day, he was almost certain he would lose them. He couldn't afford that. He was the only one living on the farm, so naturally, it was his chore to go tromping through the field every morning and make sure that nothing had been eaten, stolen, or mutilated in any way. “Meri Acres,” he scoffed to himself, “More like smelly acres.” Then he smirked at his awful rhyming talent.
Zamrin heard the familiar and very welcome woosh of his friend's wings. The green Eyrie swooped down and hovered next to him, making a noticeable gesture of disgust toward the wet mud and soggy crops. “Good morning, Zamrin!”
“Morning, Kade,” he responded, being sure to leave out the “good” part.
“I just thought I'd come by to keep you company. It's slow going down at the peach stand.” Kade referred to what could be called her “business,” but was really just a rickety old cart beside the dirt road. It was barely enough for her to get by on, but she was smart with money. She managed.
“Yeah, the whole agriculture business is failing,” Zamrin commented. “I mean, why buy real food when you can get that manufactured stuff they make out there on the Space Station?”
“It's a shame, all right. No one knows what's good for them anymore. If they do, they can't afford it. Seems to me that the honest, good-to-the-core folks are the ones that are barely managing to scrape by.”
Zamrin nodded grimly and poked one of the wilted potato crops. “This one almost didn't make it, poor thing,” he said, “I think the rain was too heavy for it last night.” There was nothing much he could do, but he patted the soil down around it and stroked one of its leaves just to be sure. “At least we've had an end to the drought.” He straightened back up and continued marching forward, kicking off mud and slosh as he went.
Kade continued hovering beside him, still hesitant to land in the filth. Sure, she was a country girl, but somehow she never managed to get dirty. She liked to be clean, and she intended to keep it that way, but she was getting tired of flying in the same spot for so long. With a sigh she let her wings droop and floated the last remaining feet to the ground, wincing as the sticky earth crawled over her paws. “How can you stand trudging through this mess all day?”
“I don't have a choice,” Zamrin said. “It's the only way I can earn a decent living, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” Kade made a futile attempt to wipe her paws off on one of the potato plants.
“Hmm...” Zamrin bent down again. “That's odd.”
“What's odd?” Kade asked, hovering over his shoulder.
“There's a plant missing here,” Zamrin said, rubbing his paw over the dirt.
“You sure? Maybe you missed that spot when you were planting.”
“No, I'm not mistaken. I've been walking through this field every day for weeks. I would have noticed it by now. It was definitely here yesterday.”
“But...” Kade leaned in closer. “I don't even see where it could have been dug up. There's no dirt around the side.”
“Definitely. And this plant is in the middle of the field. If you're going to steal something, why not one by the road? It doesn't make any sense.”
“Wait a minute.” Kade looked off into the distance. “There's a lot missing out that way too.” She nodded her head in another direction.
Zamrin followed her gaze. Sure enough, there were tons of plants missing on ahead, none of them bearing any indication that they had been dug up. “Thieves!” Zamrin screamed. “Think they can outsmart me, eh? Well, I'll catch them! I'll find them and make them pay!”
“This is awful,” Kade sympathized. “Why would someone do this? They know you're such a hard-working farmer!”
Zamrin sighed. “Half of the crops in this section are missing. At this rate, I'll never be able to pay off my debts.” He sat down and rested his head in his paws, miserable.
Kade leaned over, resting her paw on his back. “Hey. It will be okay. I could give you some extra change if it would help...”
“No, no, that's okay. You don't have to do that. I know you're just as hard pressed for neopoints as I am.” He spoke softly and in a slurred tone. Kade had trouble understanding him..
“Well... do you want me to help you look for the thieves?” Kade offered. She wanted to do her best to help. Zamrin was practically her only friend, and definitely her best one.
“Kade, there are hundreds of potato fields in Meri Acres growing millions of potatoes. There's no way we'll ever tell mine apart from any others. They've probably been sold and carted off to the Lost Desert by now, for all we know.” Zamrin kicked the mud below him, only to have it splash back on his face.
“There's got to be something I can do...”
“You're doing all you can Kade, and I appreciate that. I might still raise enough from what I have left to pay off my debts.”
“Well, it's a long shot, but if I sell to the right people, the right time, the right place... granted that all of the crops grow well, and the harvesting goes okay...”
“Zamrin, this is ridiculous; just let me give you some neopoints. Or maybe you can help me at my peach stand?”
Again Zamrin declined. He didn't want to pull his only friend under with him. He would get by... somehow... some way. That was how he had always done it, and he could do it again. It just took a little wheeling and dealing and a tremendous amount of luck. He would make it. Of that he was sure. He stood up and wiped the slimy mud off of his face with firm resolve not to let this faze him. He wouldn't let himself be upset or mourn or groan while he could spend his time making up for it with hard work.
Kade wished him good luck and muttered something about getting back to the peaches. She rose off the ground with a flurry of feathers and fur, waving to him as she left. Zamrin waved in return and turned to head in another direction and check out the plants there, all the while listening to the comforting decrescendo of her flapping wings. He readjusted his straw hat and lifted a foot out of the mud to go forward. He stopped. He heard the sound of her wings again, only this time it was getting louder. She was returning.
Zamrin turned and threw a questioning glance at her. She didn't indicate anything in return, but stared down at the ground. Without saying anything, she flew higher, gaining altitude until Zamrin could barely see her. She hovered there for a minute, circled, and came back down. She landed sloppily beside him and splashed mud onto his just-cleaned face. “Sorry,” she said blankly.
“What was that all about?” Zamrin asked, obviously annoyed. Kade continued staring at the ground. “Hello?”
Kade jumped to her senses. Her eyes unglued themselves from the crops. “Oh! Sorry. I just—as I was leaving I looked back at the plants that were missing,” she said.
“And... it wasn't a random robbery. It wasn't a robbery at all.” Kade shook her head and thumped her tail on the ground with emphasis.
“It wasn't?” Zamrin felt his face lighten with hope, but he was still terribly confused.
Kade scratched her head. “If you look at it from overhead, it's an obvious pattern. One here, one there, a few over here.” She pointed to demonstrate, but of course it meant nothing to Zamrin, his feet firmly planted in the icky mud.
“A pattern?” Zamrin asked. The meaning was hardly clear to him.
Kade drew in a breath and finally said, “I think someone is trying to send you a message.”
To be continued...