King of the Fields
In the greenwood by the spring where the waters bubbled and the frogs sang long into the night there sat a young man.
He was a fellow of middling wealth. His clothes were neither shabby nor fine, his manners were rounded on the edges, and he was of a handsomeness no less than a prince.
His head was in his hands and a great sob could be heard wrenched from the very depths of his being.
"This is a fine way for a man to carry on, alone in a wood crying. Why aren't you out tilling your fields or slaying one of the local dragons?"
The young man lifted his head from his hands and looked about him for the source of the voice. He looked and looked, did not see anyone.
A faint sound like a leaf rubbing against another leaf in a springtime breeze made him look down. At his feet was a stout worm with a body green as new grown grass and two horns on his head which lent him a stern look.
"It's you who has spoken to me?
"Who else do you see?" demanded the horned worm flashing his deep brown eyes at the man.
The fellow rubbed a clean and calloused hand over his eyes and stared in wonder at the creature.
"You have a fine spirit for a creature I could crush with a foot."
"You'll do nothing of the sort. My kin in the fields tell me how you lift them out of the way. My own cousin lives in your garden. He knows you well and watches you tend the soil of his home. You'll no more kill me than you'd strike off your own hand."
The fellow smiled at the worm for he knew it was the truth.
"Now what is this problem that disturbs you this fine day?"
"It is a woman. The finest, most beautiful in all the world. She would have me, but her father does not approve."
"And crying will change this?"
"No. I've no one to fight her for. I've no great stores of gold with which to win her. I've nothing of my own save a bit of land and a cow to convince her father I am worthy."
The worm narrowed his brown eyes which made him look even more stern.
"Have you spoken to her?"
"We've gone for long walks in the gardens and down the lanes."
"Does she seem disposed toward you?"
"I think so."
"Have you told her how you feel?"
"No. Her father ordered me away from her before I could confess my love."
"This is why you sit in wretched loneliness at my spring?"
"I wished to be alone. I won't have anyone see me in such despair."
He reached into the water and splashed a handful on his face to refresh himself.
"How is this your spring?"
"My kind have tended the spring for hundreds of generations. Thousands perhaps. We see that it flows from the ground underneath. Without us the waters would cease. If the waters ceased, then the spring would be barren. The animals would have nowhere to drink and the land would dry. We maintain life here."
"Thank you," said the young man remembering his manners.
The worm lowered his eyes and nodded his head in a shallow bow.
"Why does her father chase you away?"
"She is his only daughter. He wishes for her to be wed to a gentleman of land and wealth."
"You have lands. You must have some means about you."
"I have more than is needed for one. I can support a wife in comfort though not in luxury."
"What luxury does she need?"
"She does not say."
"Does this woman have mind of her own?
"She is wilful, I'll allow. Strong of heart, too, as she has seen me even knowing her father was against it."
"These lands of her father, are they vast and fertile? Does he needs servants to work them?"
"He has a few fieldmen."
"You are a strong man, and young. You must convince the man you are good enough. A willingness to work hard and help out when needed may turn his heart."
"What do you suggest, friend worm?"
The worm thought for a moment. The horns on his head wiggled as he cogitated.
"I will speak with the others of my kind. Come to my spring tomorrow at this time. I will have a plan for you."
And so the man when home to tend his house and land and to milk his cow.
The following day as the sun rose high in the sky he made his way through the greenwood to the spring. He sat down on a rock and waited for the worm to announce himself.
Soon he heard a faint rustling again and looked toward his feet.
"I have spoken to my clan and kind. We till the soils as much as any of you do, in our own way, and without us the lands would grow hard and the plants would struggle to break out of the soil.
"If you wish to convince the father of your worthiness, then this is what you shall do. When the time comes you will go to his fields and lay yourself down on the hard patchy soil.
"Put your ear to the ground and then announce the worms are in revolt. They do not till under the surface and make the seeds a soft bed to grow in."
Then the worm told him he should put his mouth on the ground and say a certain word and all would be well.
The man went to his lonely house and planted his fields and garden and tended his cow day after day. And each day his thoughts went to the young woman.
On occasion after his day's work was done and he'd dined as he could alone in his kitchen he would walk along the lanes to see how the other farmer's crops were faring.
Fields of grain and hay stood up in the fertile soil along his path. But when he got to the land of the woman's father he saw little if any greengrowth in the fields.
He remembered what the horned worm told him and knew it was very nearly time.
In the later morning of the next day the man put on his cleanest clothing and washed his face and hands. He took up his walking stick and made his to where the desire of his heart lived with her father.
"The land is so hard this season," she lamented as she tried to break up the ground with a small iron claw. The garden does not want to feed us this year. The fields have stayed near bare and it is already late. My father is near at his end trying to coax the crops to grow."
At that moment her father came out of the pigshed. "You again. I've told you to stay away. We've enough concerns without the sight of you. Go."
"I wonder, sir, if I might be of help?"
"I don't see how. It's a punishment I'm sure for not marrying off the girl to a doctor or a businessman in the village. Barren girl makes barren land, they say."
The young man had never heard such a saying and did not believe it. Neither did he believe that marrying off the girl to a moneyed man was the answer.
"Nevertheless, sir, you are a neighbour and I wish to offer my assistance. If I help you, may I ask one thing?"
"I don't think you'll be doing anything for me so go ahead. Name what you like. You won't earn it."
With that in his mind the young man took himself to the nearest field and laid down along the hard ground. He put an ear to the soil and announced the worms were deserting the farmer.
"They tell me, sir, you hold too much of your wealth to yourself. You keep your beautiful daughter from living."
"Nonsense. What does a worm know of life?"
The young man put his lips to the ground and spoke the word the horned worm had given him.
Shortly thereafter a great rustling came from under him. The soil seemed to lift and roll before his eyes.
But the farmer was looking at the young man and not his field and he did not see anything.
"Away with you. You'll not waste our time again."
In a few days the young man walked to the farm to see if anything had happened. He stayed a good distance from the house so he'd not be seen.
Before him was a fine crop of grain sprouted as if it had been there all along.
"You. Come here."
The farmer had seen him despite his being so careful.
"Whatever it was you whispered to my crops they liked it. A man who has such powers about him to make the land produce is worthy enough. I know what you'll ask, and I grant it.
The young man and young woman were soon walking together as often as the times would let. When he wasn't walking or working the young man went to the spring hoping to see the horned worm so he could say thank you.
One morning around mid-summer he heard a faint noise near his feet.
"Friend worm, I wish to thank you. The farmer has relented. I and the young woman will marry soon."
"It was my pleasure to be of service. Please, will you do a favour for me? Give your thanks to the soil and we who live in it and work it. Continue your kindness to my kith and kin.
The young man said he would always do so.
"One more thing. Remember the word I gave you, and all will be well."
The young man did remember. When the season was mean and crops failed he would lay on the ground and whisper the word into the soil. The crops grew tall and strong and he became know through the land as the King of the Fields.