#2 The Wheat Wars
With the beginning of the year comes another tale from the storyteller.
Wishing you an incredible 2020!
My weary feet have taken me to the doors of Danarak. For new year. Arzos strike me down, I hadn’t planned to end up in this city. The changing dunes are ever so confusing.
Thankfully, because of the celebrations the city gates are wide open for everyone, day and night. Business has no schedule after all, not for Vasrnarii.
“You there!”, one of the guards shouts. I look in her direction and she signals me to remove the hood.
Of course. The hood. How careless of me. They need to read all of our symbols, lest one of us happened to have any criminal marks. I slowly do as she asks, feeling the guard’s eyes study me from head to toe.
All she sees is my old collection of wrinkles and two symbols: the élrym and a lone dot above my left brow.
“You renounced to your mahrym”, she states the obvious, pointing at the élrym on my forehead. “First time here?”
I shake my head in response. She nods and lets me through, stopping somebody else in the process, barring them with the antler-shaped staff, so typical in Vasrna despite they have no deer.
Those precious seconds cost me my spot in the endless line of people charging towards the fortress city. Danarak is dressed for the occasion: floating colourful lights wherever you look, fellow osvarii dressed in their finest clothes, people from all neighbouring villages and towns making their yearly trip here for lack of a better place to spend the holidays at.
I put up with the sand, the dust, the sweat and the occasional tiresome comment until, at long last, the queue splits into three. I go where the least people are, away from the festivities.
There are no inns in sight, but I find a nice spot at the shadow of a building, one of those that looks like a termite nest. Heck, the whole city looks like a termite nest.
I unroll the only mat I have on the ground. If no-one comes soon, I’ll assume it’s safe to use as a story-telling spot.
People, mostly Vasrnarii, look at me with confusion. Parents pull their curious children away from me, the old man sitting on a dirty mat.
I take a sip from the waterskin and clear my throat a good number of times, enough to get the attention of a young couple and a man half my age. They look at me expectantly, as if I’m about to breathe fire out of my nostrils, like good old Samsieg Seragast.
It’s probably not the best time of the year to tell these folks a story with a sad ending.
Slumber. That time of the year when we hope that our friends, our children, our neighbours, will —or will not— get the mahrym they ask the gods for. Those who already hold a mahrym make other wishes: wealth, health, luck, perhaps love and other impossible things.
Our story takes place long before the Mrygat started cataloguing and tracking who had what mahrym in Alor. When granting a mahrym solely and ultimately depended on the will of the gods.
Thousands of years ago, two youths from Vasrna and Nariv asked the gods for the same mahrym: controlling the growth of red wheat.
The Vasrnari had been studying for ten years and had gone to the best academies in the land. The Narivi, on the other hand, had never gone outside the town she was born in, but had a practical understanding of earth and crops.
Both osvarii made countless offerings to the gods and impossible promises, repentance for wronging others in the past, and even went to the temples to share whatever good deeds they had done that day.
“I am undoubtedly the most suitable and smartest candidate”, the Vasrnari would say; “I will make the gods and my land proud.”
“I am the most experienced”, the Narivi claimed; “none of the other candidates knows red wheat as well as I do.”
When Slumber finally arrived, the two osvarii fell into a deep sleep, and their families cared for them until they awoke on the third day.
Excited to see his new symbols, the Vasrnari ran to the mirror and found the symbol of Control on his right cheekbone. Excited, his eyes darted up to the symbol on his right brow.
But it wasn’t the mahrym he had asked for. While the symbol clearly read as “growth” and “wheat”, it wasn’t the red kind.
“Sapphire wheat?!” he yelled in exasperation. “Some worthless son of a dog must’ve gotten the red kind. Now I’ll have to move to another land.”
In Nariv, when the girl woke and had a look in the mirror, her proud expression changed to a frown.
“Azure wheat! The gods must’ve not heard me right, this only grows in Gaimde!”
Both the Vasrnari and the Narivi had to move to the shores of Gaimde, the only land where sapphire and azure wheat would grow.
Years after they had mastered their mahrym, they became rivals in the market.
When the Vasrnari would up his prices, the Narivi made offers to traders. If the Narivi started using dubious methods to cut the cost of her crops, the Vasrnari would point that out to the authorities. If the Vasrnari came up with new recipes to use the sapphire wheat in, the Narivi would improve them for azure wheat and hand them out in the markets.
This went on for several years, up to the point of badmouthing the competitor’s crops and paying people to report illnesses that had never taken place, or sabotaging the final products made either with sapphire or azure wheat.
One day, a third competitor entered the market with such force that neither the Vasrnari nor the Narivi was able to compete against the prices, the quality and the tastiness of the newcomer: the cerulean wheat.
It grew faster, stronger and could be preserved for longer. In addition, something in that shade of blue made customers want to buy it more. And, above all, it was new and readily available.
Their sales dropped. Their stock rotted in warehouses for months. Not even their close friends or distant families would buy from them. Whatever were the demands, Cerulean Foods would meet them.
Struggling to keep up the pace, the Sapphire Empire was the first one to fall, followed by Azure Crops. The only way to get rid of the overstock was to give it away for free.
Together in the misery, the former rivals came across each other at the temple several time, praying for fortune that never came. The Narivi eventually approached the Vasrnari.
“I’ve shamed my ancestors”, the Vasrnari lamented. “I’ll have to start over, move to new fields where someone will want my crops. But it’s no use, Cerulean Foods has reached beyond Gaimde already!”
“They’re a stronger competitor, but we can’t give up”, the Narivi said. “We need to take the blue wheat market back.”
After that, many more meetings came. Intrigued by Cerulean Foods’ success, they tracked down where the wheat came from, but the fields they found in Gaimde were too small to supply half the world.
It wasn’t until they followed the horses carrying the amphoras that they arrived to the border between Gaimde and Gardra. And Gardra belonged to the barbaric vasarigæ.
Endless fields of cerulean wheat, as far as the eye could see, were being tended in enemy land. It wasn’t long until the Merchants’ Guild was alerted, and Cerulean Foods was brought to a close. All of the cerulean wheat was removed from the market, and thus resurfaced the Sapphire Empire and Azure Crops under the joint name of the Blue Wheat Union.
The Vasrnari and the Narivi saw their business flourish almost effortlessly. From rivals they became partners, and from partners they became close friends. Their friendship bloomed into love and, years later, they formed a small family.
It was at their son’s Slumber that he was granted the mahrym the Vasrnari and Narivi had long ago asked for: control over the growth of red wheat.
“Aren’t you happy, son?” the Vasrnari asked. “You got the mahrym both your mother and I hoped for.”
But the son replied:
“Why should I be happy? Now I’ll have to move to Nariv.”
As expected, the public doesn’t care what happened to the vasarigæ. Nobody wants a history lesson at this time of the day. Or on this day.
I roll up my mat quickly as I notice the guards approaching.
“You can only tell approved stories here!” the tallest one yells. The young couple steps in and confirms they heard a version of my story before, so I’m told to register myself somewhere in the Guild district.
Rather than telling him there’s no such thing as a storytellers’ guild, I lie and promise to do so. I’ll hide at the cheapest inn until the celebrations are over, then I’ll head somewhere else. Wherever my feet take me.