22 June, 2007

Farmer Ben

This is going to become an "interstitial" story. For most of the book, it will appear completely unconnected from anything else, then at the end will become very important. Episodes of the life of Farmer Ben will appear from time to time, often focusing on the fight with the Rock. I'm not sure who, but someone is going to stumble on the rock towards the end, I think right in the middle of the final duel, and as a result, good will triumph and the book will end. I don't have a whole lot of experience running a farm, so let me know if I need to change anything.

Ben woke up and lay in the darkness before dawn, listening to the regular breathing of his wife. He only allowed himself to indulge in this manner for a few moments before he slid out from under the warmth of the blankets and into the crisp predawn air, being very careful not to wake his still slumbering wife. She would wake only a few minutes after he left the room, he knew, but he wanted her to have every extra minute he could give her. Once awake, she would spend the day working every bit as hard as he did, despite being heavy with their second child. He had been blessed far beyond deserving to have her as his companion. As he did every morning he offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving for this blessing. He dressed quickly and silently in the darkness, trying not to wake his other great blessing. In a crib by the bed, his first son, not quite a year old, slept fitfully. Then Ben was out the door ready to begin the day.

Outside the air was cold and the stars were still bright. The eastern glow that announced the sun had not yet begun to kindle, but Ben knew it would at any moment. His chores before breakfast were simple but time consuming: feed the animals and milk the cow. Halfway across the yard to the barn, he stumbled, as he often did, over that small rock. He did not fall, but he did let out an annoyed curse directed at the familiar stone. Over the years, this rock had proven itself an obdurate opponent. It had resisted all of Ben’s efforts to dislodge it, no matter how herculean those efforts were. Only a small lump, no bigger than a man’s fist, protruded from the dirt, but digging soon showed how it broadened into enormous size, reaching out underneath both the house and the barn, ironically providing their very solid foundations and the very reason Ben’s ancestor had chosen to build there in the first place. He had attacked that knob of rock with chisels, only to wear out his tools without making a scratch on the rock. He had ruined both a pickaxe and a sledgehammer against the unyielding surface. His father and grandfather both had waged war against the stone, only to concede in defeat. Ben was not yet ready to give up, and as he continued towards the barn he renewed his vow to persevere in his private battle with the stone.

Ben put the rock out of his mind as he came to the barn. Inside he found his old mare waiting for him, as well as the mule. The two cows and the calf came in through the pasture door even as closed the yard door. Though he called her old, she likely still had at least another decade left to her. Next month he would take her to the manor house, to be bred to the Baron’s prized stallion. He could save a lot in stud fees if he chose to breed her to a lesser stallion in the area, but thanks to several bountiful corn harvests in a row, Ben had managed to save up enough to cover the Baron’s price. He considered it an investment. Whether the foal be colt or filly, he would have a magnificent animal, and whatever foals produced by it would command fair prices.

He gave them all some dried corn to supplement their grazing, then took some to the sow in her wallow. Only four little piglets nuzzled at her teats. Ben sighed when he saw them. They were all healthy, for which he was grateful, but it was definitely her last litter. She had lived a productive life; her litters had paid for the second cow. He was fond of her, but once the piglets were weaned he was going to have to sell her to the butcher. As old as she was her meat wouldn’t fetch much of a price, but the butcher could always use it in his sausages, and though Ben had done alright so far, he still couldn’t afford to feed an unproductive animal.

Back in the barn, Ben brushed down the horse and the mule, then milked the two cows. When he emerged again from the barn the stars had fled the sky, but the sun had still not quite shown its face yet. He threw a bucket of corn to chickens and carried to milk pails towards the house. Halfway there he caught the scent of breakfast and his stomach rumbled in response.

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