A Villein's Best Day
Sometimes, I find myself just lying in a field, staring at the sky watching the clouds drift by. The breeze in the air is always full of scent; sometimes the soft smell of blooming flowers covers the farm with a tantalising scent. Other times the nearby rubbish dump overwhelms with a stench worse than a rotten marrow on a bright summer eve.
My name is Alton Moughbry, and I am a Villein.
It's not an easy life being a farmer on Meri Acres Farm, but there's certainly never a dull moment, never a potato that doesn't need to be counted, nor a blade of grass that doesn't need to be watched. This is the tale of the best day in the life of a poor villein, a tale of kings, traditions, joy and marrows. It would be a day talked about in Meri Acres Farm for years to come.
The morning began much like any other, the sun streaming through the gap in the curtains, the squawk of a hungry Wibreth in the yard, and the scrabbling of Sid the Symol as he vegetablessly attempts to dig his way into the larder again. I stretched my arms out, feeling the pains of the night sinking away, the nightmares of barren fields fading with the rising sun.
I put on my boots, strong and sturdy, still going strong after ten years wear, and strode out of my bedroom into the kitchen beyond. Sid looked mournfully at me, defeated by the concrete floor once more. I opened the larder and fed the symol a carrot. He bounded joyfully away.
"I should really stop encouraging this sort of behaviour," I called after him as he went off to gallivant in the fields of Meri Acres Farm. But I knew I never would; it had become something of a ritual between us, ever since I had installed the symol-proof flooring in my kitchen.
I strode over to the sink, listening to the bickering call of the Wibreths. Turning on the tap, I grabbed my wooden mug. The grooves in the side had been slowly worn through years of use, it was smooth to the touch and comforting. The handle was perfectly proportioned for my little Kacheek hands to slip in and grasp the cup firmly. I put the cup under the water, feeling the slightly cool splash back on my hands. I knew the water would be crisp, fresh and delicious. With a soft sigh, I looked out the window above the sink, which doused the kitchen in the morning light.
I dropped the cup.
And let my mouth fall open.
In the field, just beyond my front yard was a gigantic marrow.
Now, I've been about and seen some marrows in my time, but I can tell you, this marrow was by far and away the largest I have ever seen. Green sinews of pure marrow mass exuded from all along the smooth surface. It stretched the entire length of the biggest field in Meridell. Not even the great carrot of Year 8, carefully grown for five years compared with the enormous weight presented before me. The stem connecting was thicker than I was tall. It was, frankly, huge.
I rushed out to the field, ignoring the plaintive cries of my petpets, and stood in front of the enormous marrow. I placed my hands around the plant, feeling the cool vegetation softly brushing my face. There was a gentle creaking sound, as if inside the marrow, it was still growing.
I closed my eyes, listening intently to the noise; it was all but a whisper, the sounds of nature unknown. Upon opening them, I saw my neighbour, Walter the Wocky, staring with the same open mouthed expression I had on my face only moments before.
"She's incredible," he croaked, with a small catch in his throat. Walter looked like he was about to cry.
"Aye, that she is," I agreed, feeling the whole weight of the marrow in my arms.
"How much do you think she weighs?" continued the Wocky.
"Is it even possible to say?" said I, gazing at the full length. "No less than 80 tons, conservatively."
"Aye," agreed Walter, "80 tons. That would be the largest marrow ever grown in these parts, perhaps even in the whole of Neopia. The greenhouses of Virtupets space station couldn't even contain a marrow of this size."
"We should use the scales."
"Could they even pick up a marrow of this size? We'll have to go to the King's royal weighers methinks," Walter mused thoughtfully.
"I think we'll have too," I agreed nervously, "but won't that mean we have to meet the King?" I had never had an audience with Skarl, the King of Meridell. It was said he had an obtuse sense of humour.
"Yes," said Walter excitedly. "We'll even give it as a gift!"
I nodded in agreement. Walter and I agreed to meet at the castle gates, having taken a picture of Walter standing in front of the marrow, arm stretched towards it in a pose of pure delight. I pulled on my slightly less grubby farming overalls and trudged through the winding lanes of Meridell towards the great castle. It stood proudly in the distance, the incandescently white bricks gleamed, the flags on the battlements boasted proudly of their allegiance to the king. Around the castle ran a moat of water, pure and crystal clear it protected the castle from any attacks, of enemies or thirst.
The lanes of Meridell are flanked on either side with sprightly green bushes, separating the farming land from that of the more traditional of activities, such as the targets for bullseye. Cheers and jubilant laughter could be heard in the distance, as another cheese rolled steadily down the hill. The whistle of an arrow through the air was followed by a gentle thud into a straw target. To the careful listener, as you passed one particular field, you could even hear a gentle snore beyond the bushline, the Turmaculus was fast asleep, despite the brightness of the current day.
I reached the castle to find Walter waiting smartly on the drawbridge. We strode across the wood towards the waiting Draik guards, who apprehensively crossed their spears to prevent further passage.
"Halt," called one of them cautiously as we approached. "Who goes there?"
"Don't worry, lads," said I with open palms. "We are but humble farmers from Meri Acres Farm. We have news that may interest the king."
"The king doesn't care for any news but that of hilarious jokes regarding fierce Peophins, invasions from treacherous neighbours, or enormous vegetables."
Walter and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised, before turning back to the guards.
"We can safely say it is of the latter," Walter affirmed.
"Wut?" asked the other guard with a puzzled look on his face.
"He means," translated the first, "that they have news of an enormous vegetable. Enter, boys, but take care. The king may be in a foul mood today."
Walter and I stepped over the threshold into the Meridellian castle, following the enormous red carpet which appeared to lead to King Skarl's reception chamber. Our footsteps echoed in the cavernous halls, the warmness of the day outside seemed to shrink away from entering the castle of Skarl, the Meridellian king, but the towering balistrariae high in the walls lit the floor. This was certainly not a place to grow potatoes.
The archway to the chamber of the King was guarded by a further two Draik guards, who seemed far more laconic about their duties than those on the gate. They nonchalantly waved us through as I explained the purpose of our visit.
The reception chamber of King Skarl held an enormous throne, upon which perched Skarl. He was scowling into a steaming broth in front of him. An attendant, a blue Aisha with a feather in his pompous cap, held us back from approaching the king, until he had finished his morning snack. It was shortly cleared away.
"Forward!" he boomed, licking his lips, and we complied without hesitance. "I hope you two grubby villeins have a good joke to cheer me up, else I may be tempted to throw the pair of you in the dungeons."
Walter looked at the monarch nervously and cleared his throat.
"Well, sir," he said, "we woke up this morning and upon looking out the window..."
"I'M NOT HEARING ANY TALK OF FIERCE PEOPHINS YET!" barked Skarl with fury, "GET ON WITH IT!"
"Yessir," hurried my neighbour. "Welookedoutsidetoseeagiantmarrow."
Skarl began to laugh heartily, his attendants joining in, before stopping abruptly.
"I don't get it," he growled.
"My liege," I reported, "we are not jesters, but mere farmers. We report the presence of a gigantic marrow, at least 80 tons. We hereby present it as a gift, and request the use of the royal weighers to confirm the weight."
Skarl leapt out of his seat, crown falling slightly askew.
"80 tons of pure marrow delight?" he asked, his eyes lighting up, all thoughts of jokes forgotten "That would be the largest grown in Meridell for at least as long as I remember."
"Yes sir," I confirmed. "That was our understanding as well. Hence our request for a royal weigher."
"Of course, of course," said Skarl excitedly. "Just think what we could do with that marrow. Marrow Soup. Marrow Broth. Marrow Stew. And even... Marrow Goulash. Oh happy days..."
After that, all that I recall is a whirlwind of activity, we returned to the marrow field with the royal weighers, who upon sizing up the marrow declared it to be the biggest ever seen. They measured the sides, the height and the width. Using a delicate knife the royal weighers took a square chunk of marrow out, measured the weight and then ate it. For Quality Control. As the weighers conferred to discuss the full size, a small crowd of marrow enthusiasts had heard rumours of a giant marrow, and gathered around the vegetable. They called out guesses. Walter started to make a game of it, declaring a marrow-related prize to the closest.
"70 tons," cried one. Walter noted this down.
"113.4," called another
"98, no wait, 97," hollered a third. Walter struggled to keep up with the volley of enthusiastic calls, trying to assign only a single number to each guesser. The guesses varied between a pessimistic 20 tons and an incredulous 999 tons!
After a few minutes of calculations and one intense discussion, resplendent with strong marrow-related insults, the royal weighers packed up and left, pinning a royal declaration on the marrow in the name of King Skarl.
100 tons. Presented to King Skarl by the Villeins of Meri-Acres Farm.
I could barely believe it, a triple-digit marrow would enter the legends of Meri Acres Farm. We would never be believed by the other villeins. We would become the envy of all farmers near and wide. At the confirmation of the results, the crowd dispersed, the happy victor clutching her Marrow seedling.
"Aye, it's been a good day."Walter the Wocky grinned. "100 tons is more than I dared dream."
The sun was setting on the horizon, sending soft tendrils of red light over the creaking marrow, which seemed to grow in the fading of the day. Walter put his arm around me friendly-like.
"We should do a competition like this everyday, for each marrow we see in the morning," declared Walter. "Something interesting other than just counting potatoes."
I felt insulted.
"Potatoes are safe," said I.
"Not that counting potatoes isn't fun," amended the Wocky, "but sometimes, it's interesting to spice it up with a different root vegetable."
The sky darkened, in the morning the marrow would be taken away for the kitchens of King Skarl.
"I'll think I'll call her Old Bessie," said Walter fondly. "She was gorgeous."
"Aye, she were a beaut."
There's never a dull moment on Meri Acres Farm. But this villein will always look back fondly on this particular day.