Preface: The idea for this story came to me last night when I most probably should have been focusing on homework, and so I wrote it tonight in much the same fashion. I think it falls somewhere between "Job" and "Jack and the Beanstalk". Hopefully I'll be able to illustrate it and add it to my fairytale book this summer.
There once was a very poor man who lived in Eameth and struggled every day to feed his wife and children. Though the home they had was sound, it was five miles from the nearest village and ten from the next one over, though they lived by a stream it was often dry in the late summer, and though he owned a great expanse of land, nothing had grown there since the birth of his youngest daughter. He was an honest man, hard-working and loved his family whole heartedly, but no matter what he put his hand to, tinkering, painting, building, he couldn’t seem to make a living off of it—all who saw him shook their heads and sighed, some called him lazy, others called him stupid, and still more prided themselves for their pity, but none offered him work or were kind to his wife and children in passing.
Over time the man was thrown to desperation, and though he spent all his time hunting or scavenging or trying to find work, he had to watch his children grow thinner and thinner, and his wife become weaker and weaker. One day, in the late fall when the stream was swollen with rain, he wandered as far up it as his weary legs would carry him—to a deep spot over his head and with his remaining strength began to tie stones to his ankles with bits and pieces of twine, thinking that without him is wife could remarry and she and their children might have a better chance of surviving.
He had just begin to tie the last stone when the gentle voice of a stranger broke the rhythm of birdsong and caused him to pause. “No trouble is worth losing the greatest of gifts, my son” said the weathered looking old man who he now saw resting beneath a nearby tree. Avid, for that was his name, felt anger somehow revolt in the pit of his stomach. Did the stranger not know the struggle and pain he had gone through that had driven him to this moment? “Have you ever had to watch your children starve?” he asked cynically.
“I have had to see far worse”. The old man reached out his hand to Avid and pressed the palm against the younger man’s forehead. Avid’s vision flared with pain and he saw the suffering of the whole world and he knew in that moment that this was what the old man saw and felt with every breath he took. Then, in a flash of heat he saw his family huddled against a cloud of dust, crying the last of their water into a shallow grave, and he grew deeply ashamed. He watched as they each perished, none the better for his selfish sacrifice. His face grew flushed and he searched for words, but he found none. “You have yours to care for and I have mine,” the old man said “but I have watched you at times and I know that though you have succumbed to fear, it has been despite your most firm efforts. So-- I will give you a chance to change your fate if you promise to trust me”.
Avid felt the air seemed somehow to grow heavier around them and he was aware that whatever he said here, he would be bound to by honor. So he said truthfully “I would do anything to save them. Please, I give you my promise”. His heart plunged forward, pounding against his skin with surprising strength. A different kind of fear filled him, it seemed to build him up, to renew him.
The old man blessed Avid with a quiet smile as he offered him a sullied parcel “in this you will find all that you need. You must plant it and tend to it every day, no matter what, for as long as it takes. If you fail once, it shall never come to fruit, but I give you my word that if you are faithful, it will be the end to a great suffering”. Before Avid could reply and even as he looked at him still, the old man seemed to shift back into the trees, becoming just another part of the forest. In a moment, Avid realized that the air was lighter, full of hope and he ran back to his home and began his work right away.
Over the next few days Avid planted every last grain of the wheat (for that is what the parcel contained), and watered each one diligently. He told his wife and children what he had seen and they helped him to tend to the crop. Over the next few weeks they waited excitedly for something to happen, turning over every stone to see if a blade of wheat might be struggling beneath it. The days began to grow darker, the nights colder, and yet they watered, hoping that something would happen. Nothing did.
They watered the wheat fields every day that winter, and when spring came and the leaves of the forest grew green and fresh, they thought that this, at last, would be the time. But still, nothing happened. As spring wore on, the farmer instructed his wife and children to fill pails and buckets with water and hid them in the cool of the cellar, he built a basin in the dark down there to fill with water so that they should not run out when the summer came in full.
They watered and they watered and they watered. The summer sapped them of their strength and left them in hunger and still they watered, praying with everything that that they were for any small blade to peak up from beneath the surface of the field. And still nothing did.
The autumn came again and Avid’s lands remained barren. His wife was ailing and his children were too hungry even to cry and he felt his heart begin to falter, but he remembered the solemnity of his promise to the old wanderer and so he continued to water the fields. The next year passed much the same way, and so did the one after that. By the fourth year all who knew him thought Avid and his family all insane and nobody would speak to them out of fear that they carried some disease. But still Avid watered. Though he had to crawl on his shriveled knees, though he had the strength barely to lift his head, he continue to water his fields. A fifth year passed.
In the middle of the sixth year, the villagers climbed up to Avid’s home and began shouting at him that he should give up, before they had to drive him and his family away. They told him that from the village below, their home was an eyesore and that if it weren’t for him the town would be prospering far better. They even went so far as to suggest that he do as he had planned so many years before. Through it all Avid but smiled quietly and went about his watering.
At the end of the sixth year his youngest daughter grew ill, and by the following Spring she was so ill that she could not even drink from the stream or eat the few berries that still hung upon the sparse bushes in the forest. She could not follow the others outside to water and Avid and his wife were deeply worried. They tried everything they could to revive her. In the dark hours of the night, her soul left her body. Avid and his wife took her out to the edge of the forest and buried her there among a bed of asters. Avid’s wife, who had been so patient and trusting through all of their pain turned away from him in final disappointment and went to the middle of the largest field and wept. Avid joined here there. The two wept together until the sun broke, pacing through the raw dirt, feeling the hope that they’d had crunch roughly beneath their feet. When they could cry no longer they began once more to water.
Avid lay down that night and held his family close to his heart, fearing the morning and the barrenness of his land. Through the chinks that had grown in his roof, he watched the moon in her course across the blackness and prayed that it would never end. It was with bitterness that he watched the tint of red that grew across the sky, but he rose faithfully and stepped outside with his pail of water. He thought at first that his eyes were lying to him, that his inability to sleep might be causing a mirage, but there across the expanse of his land was a gentle dusting of green. He barely dared to blink, lest the image disappear. He stumbled into the nearest field and felt the cool dewing fronds of green wheat lick his ankles. He fell onto his knees and began again to weep. That morning the field was watered half with his tears and half with the water from the stream, and when his family woke they were breathless with relief. They redoubled their efforts and soon the stalks were as high as their waists, and then nearly up to Avid’s chest. And then it grew to be a color as gold is the evening sun. And just at the right time Avid and his wife and his remaining children cut it all and threshed and cleaned it at took it to the village to sell.
The family was so renewed that the villagers did not even recognize them, and happily bought up all the wheat and only paused occasionally to wonder if they had seen these prosperous farmers before. Avid and his wife decided to say nothing to the villagers about the past, knowing that they would each find out in their own way.
After the harvest that year, Avid’s family lasted quite comfortable through the winter months, and the next spring, the crop had doubled, the spring after it was tenfold, and so it continued to multiply. No more weariness or illness was seen in Avid’s family and they all remained attentive of their gift.
One spring, Avid found his way again to the deep pool up the stream, hoping that the wanderer might be there, but he found only an aster sitting upon the bank. And so he knew that his daughter was taken care of too, that she also, had found her years of plenty.