His bony hands ached from the day’s work. It was finally time to harvest. This meant he got to get away from the other farmers he had to suffer with for some time at least.
Cricket Flame, one-and-nine years old was lean, tall and skinny. His peers pushed most of their work upon him, very much more than his nimble bones were capable of handling. He was the weakest one of their farming group, but got more work done than the rest of ’em.
He wasn’t planning on being there for long and so, put up with everything. He had ideas, ones that’s made listeners laugh in his face more than once. This one though, he wasn’t going to waste on deaf ears. He was going straight to the top.
“Who are going to be the ones to deliver the harvest this time?” asked Yuviyer, the oldest farmer of their group, and so considered to be a sort of leader to them. Cricket’s was the first hand to go up. Three or four more were visible through the smoking fire they were gathered around.
“Alright. Cricket, Greenhand, Sue and who’s that one? Oh yes, Anne,” he said pointing at them as he called them. They stood up.
“After the defeat here at Marvelo’s, the Frosts would have retreated a long way,” he continued, in a matter-of-fact voice. The Frosts had suffered a humiliating defeat just weeks ago. The group was thrilled about it. It had taken up most of the conversation they’d had for the past several days.
The farmers were left behind after battles to put the battlefield to use, and produce crops there. After harvest, the products were taken to the camp by some of them, who came back with news of any further battles. They would then go ahead wholly if the Flames had won or stay there, or they’d have to go north again if they’d lost.
“So the journey would be harder and longer, of course. Cricket will be driving the wagon,” he paused as Cricket let out a loud sigh. The horses never listened to him.
Yuviyer continued, as if he hadn’t heard anything, “Greenhand, you sit in the wagon with the harvest. The both of you will guard them from any threat, mostly just starving animals,” he said to Sue and Anne.
“I don’t think I need to remind any of you to go around any forest u may come across,” he continued, subtly indicating Cricket. He rolled his eyes.
That was one time. Cricket had made the mistake of going through a forest once before, and only got only nearly half the harvest to the camp. He himself was severely scratched, but they didn’t seem to care very much about that.
“You will start tomorrow,” he finished and sat down. The ones standing followed suit.
The wagon was loaded early the next day. The sky was clear and the air :fresh.
Cricket had barely woken up; and before he knew it, was sitting in the front of the wagon – commanding two horses that did more of whatever they wanted to, than what he was screaming. Sue and Anne atop their own horses on either side were the ones who were keeping them on track.
Greenhand was in the back, asleep on a sack of carrots. Cricket gave an especially loud command. Greenhand snorted and got up, grimacing.
Nobody in the group knew his real name. He knew everything related to farming though. He could name any plant or tree you pointed at, knew what was wrong with the crops just by looking at them. People had gotten to call him Greenhand, and he had said he liked it more than his real name and so, wouldn’t disclose it anymore.
“Oh sorry, did I wake you up?” he asked, in a subtly sarcastic tone, biting his lip.
“No. Er-no,” he mumbled sleepily. “Which one are you again?” he asked, shaking his head.
“Oh, I’m Cricket.”
“Oh right. What kind of name is that, anyway?” he asked.
Maybe I should just have let him sleep. “I was young. I liked the sounds the crickets made in the night. They were the only familiar sound I used to hear everyday. Didn’t get to have parents, you know,” he said defensively.
“Oh you’re one of ’em, right. I heard there was one in the group,” Greenhand said.
“Were. I was one of them,” he corrected.
The rest of the journey was mostly silent, only broken by Green’s, “Are we there yet?” that he repeated every ten minutes. Sue and Anne seemed to be too busy with their work – staring at nothing – to be making conversation. There were no forests, no animals, nothing. Just the footprints of thousands before them filled the land.
Once, another farming group seemed to be bringing their harvest far to their left. They had passed around the one farscope they had, looking at them, and waving, trying to catch their attention, but soon lost them too.
They had reached the army at Bennet’s town, two days later, right in the middle of battle. The archers were filling the sky with arrows. The women and the Broken had their back turned to them, looking at the battle.
It was complete chaos. The grass was turned red by the falling men. More Frosts than Flame, it was visible from even all the way from the back. Swords clanging was heard clearer and louder than men’s screams. “Seems to be going great for us,” Sue said, beaming. It was the first complete sentence she had said in two days.
The Frosts broke and ran after sometime, rather quick. “That was quick, how long has this been going on?” Greenhand asked, getting down from the top of the wagon, to a man leaning on a crutch.
“It’s been barely an hour. This was worse than Marvalo’s, folks,” the man told Green, triumphantly.
What has happened to this war? It didn’t use to
They had come straight to the castle, where the Queen was. This is going to be easier than I thought. He would’ve had to find his way to the castle, if their path had taken them somewhere to the East or West, but they had come straight to the castle.
The harvest was being collected by the Queen’s guards. Cricket caught the attention of a man in a robe, who seemed to be the man in charge there and told him about his idea. The man, who asked to be addressed as the Elder seemed to be quite taken with it.
“I will have to talk about this to the Queen though. But don’t worry, she knows what she’s doing,” he had said, in a reassuring voice.
He had also made Greenhand and the rest to leave without Cricket, when Green had refused and fought.
A day later, the Elder had him waiting in his tent while he went to talk to the Queen. It took another two hours before the Elder returned.
“You are going to have to tell the Queen herself,” he spat out the words, bitterly like it was bad news. He asked Cricket to follow him and led the way.
Cricket had to jog to match up to the old man’s pace. He was then made to wait for some more time outside the Queen’s room. Men were being led in and got pulled outside after some time. Then the Elder signaled him to get in. The time had come…
He entered the room. It didn’t have much light, he squinted to find a woman seated, half covered by the darkness. Her eyes were the most visible part of her. Green eyes, quite rare.
“Um, I was meant to meet the Queen,” he said, doubtfully.
The Elder, standing at the door, cleared his throat loudly and raised his eyebrows trying to get something across, Cricket thought. But he couldn’t get it for the life of him.
“Why? Don’t I look like a Queen?” the woman said slyly. Her lips curled into a visible, weak smile.
Is she kidding? Oh damn, this ain’t going to go very well if she isn’t…
“Um… Er, I don’t -”
“I am the Queen, and you can relax. I am not offended. And you are?” she said.
“Um Cricket, Er-” he didn’t know what he was supposed to say at the end. The stories always had a way the people addressed a ruler.
“My Queen…” she prompted.
“Oh yes. Cricket Flame, my Queen,” he said.
“That’s an unusual name…” she said, every word seemed to be a real struggle.
“Oh, it’s – I liked crickets as a child, my Queen. They really shouldn’t let the the kids name themselves,” he said.
“Well they don’t… Oh, we don’t. You were a Frost?” she asked.
“Yes, my Queen,” he said through his teeth. That wasn’t something he wished to be letting her know. Stupid.
“Well, I agree Cricket. That is quite a stupid idea. How did you shift?” she asked.
He didn’t want to really talk about all that. It was starting to make him quite uncomfortable. The Queen was asking though. So he started, “When I was five, the nurse I was with then took a liking to me and when she was made to go to the other camp after a loss, she took me across with her.”
“What about your mother?” she asked.
“The Frosts don’t get mothers. You didn’t know?” he added, looking at her confused face. “Well, the child is passed onto different nurses after it is born to not give anyone any attachments. Would be a distraction, apparently. So, no one was stopping the nurse,” he explained.
“Wow, they are savages. Anyways, what is this brilliant interesting idea you’ve won my Elder over with?” she asked, smiling.
“Well it isn’t really my idea actually. It was something that existed before and made obsolete by the war. My Queen, the soldiers loot the bodies of the dead and any town we come across. It is just saved for whatever life they choose after the war. I just plan to give their coin some use and… And start a business,” he paused. This was usually when the listener would laugh at him and call him insane, usually.
The Queen only leaned forward into the light, looking more curious. She was beautiful. She looked a bit starved, but beautiful so. “A business? What’s that? I’ve’nt heard of it,” she said.
“Like I said, my Queen. Obsolete. The idea is to leave a few of us – farmers – at an establishment. Men can come and pay to get good food cooked for them. Some of the harvest would have to be given to them, then.”
“It will be a safe haven to the soldiers. It would also show an idea of an end to this war, my Queen. And if it picks up, more will take to it and there would be one for every area. And, a tax will be paid to the camps to ensure peace,” he finished. He had sounded more confident than ever. He had even gotten to his feet, unknowingly.
Was that what she was doing? Making small talk, to put me at ease? She did know what she was doing then.
“I can see how you got to my Elder. I love it. We are getting on that as soon as poss-” she was saying before a fit of coughing took over her.
“I’m sorry, my Queen. But what was that last bit?” he said, his giddiness showing clearly in his voice.
“As soon as possible. We are doing this,” she said.
“Told you,” said the Elder, still at the door.
The Queen stood up and shook his hand: graceful, and yet firm. A thousand butterflies took flight inside Cricket.