The Imperial Chronicle
Not a professional writer but i like to dabble and spit the words in my head out every now and again. Please pardon any grammatical errors and I hope you enjoy
Despite several droughts it had been a better than average year for beans and potatoes, thought the farmer .The heads of his horses bobbed up and down, thick muscles in their necks bulging as they tugged on the harnesses connecting them to the aging farming cart. But Josef liked to believe that in their motions, they were in agreement with him. During his long years of isolation, many periods had come and gone where the farmstead’s animals were his only companions, and to that he tended to lend human like attributes to their behavior. He leaned back in the seat pondering this habit, his head sweeping to the east and west, learned eye surveying the final harvest of a long summer season. As he had for seven years before, the yield would be picked, plucked and packed by his lone hand, then taken to market four days ride away in Oakenhold. Thinking of the grueling labor ahead sent twinges of pain tracing along an extensive web like scar running from his elbow to his palm. Absent-mindedly his hand began sliding towards the saddle pack swinging lazily from a short post jutting from the wagon, and the vial of amber colored fluid nestled inside. His fingertips just brushed the glass when the cart’s wheels spun over a bumpy patch of cobblestone protruding from the slope it had begun traversing. The accompanying jostling sent the vial tumbling deeper into the contents the pack, and his hand back to firmly grasp the reins. Climbing up the rocks was a strenuous task, more so than a first look may have offered. Five wagon lengths later and his horses began struggling to find footing on the mass of smaller stones that larger, sturdier ones had given way to. Thoughts of how he had missed the unfavorable terrain swept to the back of his mind as he tried his best to mount the cart over it.
“There now boys, take it easy... One foot at a time now”, he murmured.
The smaller of the two, Tim heeded this command. Tom, bigger and much more brutish elected to attempt at series of repeated leaps like those of a pouncing cat, in an effort that seemed more likely to shake the cart to scrap than pull it to the top of the hill. A backward glance saw a few parcels of seedlings for the next year’s crops spilling out the back of the wagon. Josef’s head swung back towards the team as he yelled “Tom, steady on now!” Not used to hearing his raised voice both horses came to a standstill. Immediately the weight of the wagon began pulling man and beast back down the incline. The large rocks skirting the bottom of the hill seemed much more formidable rushing towards them and Josef knew the harm they would cause to a cart moving backwards. He wrapped the reins once, twice around his callused hands and gave them a massive whipping motion, simultaneously yelling “YAH, YAH”. Tim and Tom sprang into motion, digging in and tugging in unison, until their surefootedness and admirable strength respectively dragging the wagon up and finally over the hills peak.
Both equines at once attempted to slump to their knees in exhaustion, Tom’s sheer mass lifting the cart several inches on its axles. Josef dropped down to the ground, moving to unclasp the harness and free the horses temporarily of their burden. With a loud thump the cart came crashing to a level standing in the soft grass, with Tom and Tim swiftly following suit. Josef stepped over the heaving bodies of his tired beasts to access the back of the cart, swinging open the door to witness the mess inside. Bundles undone and loose fruit and vegetables across the length of the floor but from an outward glance nothing seemed to be ruined beyond consumption or sale. He extracted an armful of apples from the disarray, cradling them in one arm while grasping am stoneware jug and two shallow bowls with the other. Half of the apples he deposited in front Tom, who demolished them in a fashion that would have impressed an elephant. Uncorking the jug with a toothy yank, Josef rinsed the remaining apples in the cool stream of water that ran from within. These he lay in front of Tim, who in his own fashion only began eating once he had given each apple his typical examination. Tom looked up from the patch of half torn grass and apple pulp before him to stare wistfully at the pile of the other. Chuckling at their mannerisms the farmer poured most of leftover water into the bowls and slid them towards his companions. The rest he sent draining down his own throat, a sigh of contentment ending the exchange.
With his horses fed and watered; and curious for a second look, Josef ambled back to the edge of the cliff. Uneager to lose footing and meet a sloppy ending, he dropped to hands and knees as he moved closer. His face peered over the edge. An examination from above painted a different scene than experiencing the climb firsthand. There were far more stones than he had noticed from the cart seat, from his position he saw that they coated almost the entirety of the hillside in a rigid alabaster sheet. Several towards the middle were boulder sized, pale hulking custodians casting shade over those below courtesy of the sinking sun. His eyes roamed the base of the slope and in doing so noticed something even more peculiar about the rubble. The edges of each stone seemed distinctly similar to the stone on either side; even the smallest of them so far as he could tell by squinting, so that they could have been interlocked if there were no gaps between them. This peculiarity was dismissed from his mind however, when he caught sight of the seedling bundles that had earlier tumbled from the cart. Bearing in mind their location, Josef withdrew from his precarious position and returned to the horses, now on their feet and waiting. Quickly he reattached them to their reins, and hoisting himself back into his seat, gave them a quick snap. They lurched forwards at a snappy trot, forelocks swaying with their reinvigorated footfalls. The sounds of a distance water source entered Josef’s ears and to that direction they went.
Subsequently they came to a wide gurgling stream, forded by a low stone bridge barely wide enough for three men to cross walking side by side. It was always a tight passing the cart, and since the last season Tom had lost neither weight nor girth. One errant wheel poking over the side and a tense moment later and they had crossed. Ahead lay Josef’s last section of farmland. Under the soft light of a dying sun stood two acres of apple trees, nestled in a small valley bisected by the stream. The constant water source had been a boon on this verdant nest egg, no matter the fortuity of the other crops, the apple trees always flourished. A breeze swirled through the valley, swaying the tree branches and carrying the crisp autumnal scent of the fruit they bore on them. A smacking sound emanated from Tom, Josef knew he was eyeballing the glossy maroon gems hanging low on their stems. He took in a breath, and the moment. He remembered the first years. When the stream rain below the surface instead of above it, and the now idyllic land had been a near impenetrable swale, primordial, choked with weeds and thorny shrubs, and inhabited by more than just bears and wolves. The old itch resurfaced on his skin, bringing him back to the present. He ached for just one sip on the serum, but knowing what would come later, forwent in favor of turning his mind back to the coming harvest. The floor of the grove was littered in apples, but the branches above still drooped with the weight of hundreds of apples.
‘Probably the largest harvest yet....’ he thought. ‘Might need some folks from town to get them all in time.’
Attaining more helping hands would require more than two trips overall to Oakenhold. This in mind, Josef thought it best to cut short the survey and return home to pack supplies for the journey. He tugged on the reins and after a slight linger from an attempt from Tom to snag a wayward apple, they were on their way home. The travel back passed without event. When they arrived back at the rock ridden hill Josef directed the cart past where they had climbed up and to a gentle slope a little ways from the main path. Almost completely set, the suns face barely peeked over the horizon. It rays darted into Josef’s eyes and as he raised his arm to block them, another thought about the strangeness of this hill entered his mind. The sun had never blinded him in the eyes on an evening return trip to the farm. And though routine had a way of becoming so routine as to become unremarkable, it occurred to Jacob that the path usually took on this route was the one he was presently on. As bizarre as it seemed to be, the only explanation seemed to be the hill had turned in a half circle. Josef palmed his forehead, thinking that the vial of fluid couldn’t possibly addle his mind to be more confused than it was now. The cart continued on its way, circling the base the hill. At length they arrived at the location where they had climbed. Against the pale rocks Josef swiftly picked out the tawny burlap sack of seeds. The twinge in his arm flared yet again as he moved to recover them, and behind him he could hear the horses neighing nervously. An ominous sense was rising in the pit of his stomach. He knelt to pick up the bag, looking up as he did so. The hill seemed larger somehow, bigger than when they had traversed it just hours earlier. It looked to be more small mountain than hill now, looming over him like a dark arbiter. Even the stones seemed more formidable, they had taken on a shadowy blue hue in the emerging moonlight. Josef grasped the parcel, eager to be away from the hill and closer to home before his feet got any colder. It didn’t give way to his efforts. He tugged harder, bracing against the nearest boulder. Still the sack held tight to the ground. Josef knelt, probing beneath the sack, seeking what it was that kept it fixed to the ground. Tilting back its fabric he saw that it had become pinched between one stone and another that was half buried into the ground. A stone with lettering etched into its surface, a name and two dates. Josef read, but before he had finished he had dropped the sack, leaving it where it lay and running back to the wagon in a panic He launched himself into the seat and grabbed the reins. He ran the horses faster than he ever had, back to the farm and away from the hill and the boulders. And the gravestone.