First and foremost, we must create a structure that preserves the skills of farming with and without power tools. To do anything less is to court failure after the long sacrifice.
- Excerpt from the notebook of Foster Delhim, Sealed Archive
Sweat ran down Miri’s back and ribs, plastering her cotton shirt to her body. Her arms were sore with the effort of forcing the hoe into the thick black dirt. Over and over and over she brought the hoe down, slicing into the ground, then pulling it back towards her, turning the top soil. She was near the end of the last row, speeding up slightly to finish sooner when she heard the voice she was dreading.
“World around, girl! Do you think that is a credible job of turnin’?”
Miri straightened and turned to face her tormentor, the muscles in her lower back singing a song of pain. With the back of her hand she pushed her sweat-wet hair from her forehead and stared at Uncle Fergus. He was standing at the edge of her patch, frowning and glaring, just like always.
“It’s good enough, Uncle,” Miri said, not wanting to argue but unable to back down. “No crops are goin’ in. And I’ll just have to do it again in eight weeks’ time.”
Fergus did not like that, not one bit. The tall, wiry man stepped right up to Miri, his face looking down at her, falling into shadow from the light directly above.
“Is that any way for one of the Chosen to think? To just do barely enough?”
Miri hung her head. There was no answer. Uncle Fergus was right. The way of the Chosen didn’t leave room for half-measures, no matter the reason. Another in a long list of things that were unjust and unfair.
Seeing his victory, Uncle Fergus pressed on. “Now, do it again, from the start, girl. If you’d done it right the first time, there’d be no need to do it again.”
Miri turned and plodded diagonally across the patch, her shoes sinking into the soft, turned soil. She hated Uncle Fergus and the patch with every step. She hated the dirt, the hoe, and everything in her path. Even with the patch already being turned, it would be at least another two hours of back-breaking work to finish it again. Now there was no chance she would be able to meet up with Solange and Farhi before the cattle were moved through the Town. Miri was just about resigned to her fate when Uncle Fergus spoke again.
“A good thing your parents are not here to see you shame the Blaylock name like this!”
Miri saw red. Before she even knew what she was doing, she had spun around and was stalking towards her Uncle, the hoe raised high above her head. As she came close she could see Uncle Fergus’s eyes were wide with shock or perhaps even fear. She slammed her hoe down, barely missing him and burying the head completely in the ground.
“You hateful old man!” she shouted, “By the Gods of Earth, if you ever speak of my parents again, I’ll cleave your head with this hoe!”
On another day, seeing Uncle Fergus’ shock and fear would have made Miri gleeful, but today is was just too much. She whirled and ran as fast as she could, tears streaming down her face.
After a few seconds, she could hear her uncle shouting for her to come back. But she ignored him and ran as fast as she could for the copse of trees that stood near the river. The strong bright light of day was shaded by the leaves of the trees she sprinted past, cooling Miri’s sweat and tears.
She ignored it and kept going until she crested the small hill that bordered the river. Turning left, she ran along the water’s edge, until she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. Miri sank down to the sandy soil and wept.
Why did Uncle Fergus have to be so horrible all the time? Why couldn’t he see that she didn’t fit in as a Farmer? And the oldest question of the last three years, why did Mum and Da have to die?
Knuckling the tears from her eyes Miri gazed over the river to the fields farmed by the Tormount’s. The fields rose steeply. The rise continued to the other side, where Road Three cut across. Beyond the road the rise of the land was even more visible, the barns of the O’Malley’s were at such an angle Miri could see the roofs, the sides nearest her foreshortened. The land kept rising, with the paddocks for the black and white milk cows taking on a nearly vertical angle form where she sat. She could see the cows and calves cropping grass, all the while standing at a ninety degree angle to her, gravity nailing them to the apparent wall of the world.
Tilting her head back further, Miri saw the land beginning to arch over, creating the sky, filled with more farms that seemed to defy gravity, from her point of view. She lost the sight of the ground a mile overhead where the blinding glare of the light-tube slashed down the middle of the world. Miri could have laid back on the sand and seen the land curved back, becoming a wall behind her, then arching down until it looked flat, but what was the point? It was all the same, and there was nowhere else to go. She lived in the inside of a spinning tube, and would for the rest of her life.
After a while Miri heard footsteps. At first, she thought it was Uncle Fergus, but when she looked up, she saw it was Gran instead. She was a small woman. At fifteen Miri was already four inches taller than her. Her face was wrinkled and a little saggy, with a long braid of white hair hanging down her back, but her bright blue eyes still glinted and flashed like light off of water.
Miri waved, and Gran nodded but neither of them spoke. It took a little while for Gran’s slow steps to bring her to Miri. When she arrived, she lowered herself slowly to the sand.
Crossing her legs under her green-and-white checked dress Gran braced her hands on the sand and leaned back to look up at the farms and people standing on the curve of the world. After a few seconds, she spoke.
“Your Uncle tells me you’re upset.”
Miri didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what she could say. It was embarrassing to have Gran involved in this situation, she being the oldest person in the Habmo and on the Elder Council.
“He also says you nearly attacked him with a hoe. Is that true?”
“I wanted to. But I didn’t, Gran. I know the difference between wantin’ and actin’, even when I’m mad.”
The old woman nodded, still not looking at her granddaughter. “Still, you put some fear into our Fergus. Can you tell me why?”
It would have been easy for Miri to blame everything on Uncle Fergus, and she was sure that Gran would agree, but it wasn’t honest. And honesty was a pillar of being one of the Chosen.
“He said I didn’t do a proper job on my patch, but that’s not why I scared him. He said that Mum and Da would be ashamed of who I am. He made it seem like they would think me unworthy of being Chosen.”
“Ah, now I see,” Gran said.
“He shouldn’t have said that! It isn’t right for him to talk about them like that!” Miri said with heat in her voice.
“No, he shouldn’t, but just because he acts badly does not give you an excuse to do the same, does it?”
Miri looked down, unhappy, and muttered, “No, Gran.”
“But I am more interested in why you got so mad when he said it. Do you think your parents would be shamed by you? Was your Commitment Patch work shoddy?”
Miri took a deep breath the way she’d been taught, and tried to look at her work from outside herself. Trying to see it as someone else might.
“It wasn’t perfect, but it was done right, Gran,” she said looking back up to find those bright blue eyes on her.
“I agree. I looked at your patch. There might have been room for improvement, but you will have to do it again after the Festival, before you can plant new crops.”
“That’s what I told him!” Miri burst out, “Why can’t he understand?”
“Child, your uncle has a lot of fear in him, and it makes him hard to take.”
“Fear? What is Uncle Fergus afraid of?”
“He likes his position as one of the Most Righteous. He’s worn that patch for more than ten years. More than anythin’ he fears losin’ it. He is not as young as he used to be.”
Miri couldn’t get her head around the idea that Uncle Fergus was afraid, especially of losing his patch. Every time she talked to him he was so sure, so absolutely convinced of his correctness and everyone else’s faults.
Gran patted Miri on a knee. “I see you don’t believe me.” Miri started to deny it but Gran just held up a hand stopping her before she could even start. “There’s no reason why you should be able to see it. It’s one o’ things that take many years to learn. But trust an old woman when she says she knows her son’s heart.”
Miri hated it when adults did that, when they told you they had special knowledge because of how long they lived. As if it were some kind of handicap to be young and not set in one’s ways. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Gran might be sympathetic, but she wasn’t going to sit still for Miri being openly disrespectful to her.
“And an old woman also knows a young one hates bein’ told ‘wait until your older, you’ll understand’. Or at least I did when I was your age,” she finished with a lopsided grin.
Miri couldn’t help but return the grin, Gran had so accurately predicted her thoughts.
“Now, that’s more like my shinny girl!” Gran said, pushing a stray lock of hair back behind Miri’s ear. “It seems to me that you were goin’ to Town with your friends, weren’t you?”
“Aye, Farhi and Solange,” Miri said, “But I have to do my patch over again. By the time I’m done, they’ll be long gone.”
“Your patch is just fine, and I’ll tell Fergus so again, if he asks. You go clean up and join your friends. This is a big Festival for you. Who knows? You might find your partner at this one? If I remember rightly, the boys from Habmo6 are very handsome. I had quite a bit of naughty fun at the Festivals when I was a girl.”
Miri blushed bright red. It was so embarrassing when old people talk about sex like that. It was a generally held belief among her friends that it was just about impossible to imagine anyone out of their generation having sex. And who would want to? Uck!
Seeing her discomfort, Gran just laughed. “Go on, girl! If you stay your old Gran will only embarrass you more!”
Miri wanted to object, but instead just stood and walked away quickly, the silvery bell-tones of her grandmothers laugh following her.