Element of the Abstract: Chapter Fifteen
The forest broke before a short log fence, beyond which lay acres and acres of fertile farmland. In Lunora, November would be the time of year where frost was setting in and crops were dying off, but here in the balmy northern climate, most crops were still producing rather well. Adelaide approached the fence and leaned against it, supporting her weight with her upper arms, as she’d corralled her lower ones back into a cloak after their encounter with the hostile hunter. Besides, they needed to cross the farmland to get to Solelio, and Urta warned that they would need to interact with its owner.
“Farmer Hansklau is… ornery,” Urta had told them as they approached. “It’s best if we just make a brief stop, be respectful, and move along. He’s not the kind of person you want to be friends with.”
Sebastian sidled up to Adelaide and leaned against the fence. It was a windy day and it caught his hair as he exchanged forest cover for the open air of the farmland. Out of the corner of his eye, down rows and rows of cabbage, Sebastian spotted someone. He pointed.
“Is that him?”
Urta squinted and shielded his eyes from the sun with his hand. “Don’t think so. Must be his ward.”
Urta shrugged, shaking his head slightly as though trying to shake an unpleasant thought. “He works there in exchange for food and housing. It’s pretty common in agricultural communities.”
“So that’s what this is, huh?” Osryn mused, gazing out over the vast windswept fields. “An ‘agricultural community…’”
Urta chuckled. “Yeah, well, it’s not exactly as common in Lunora for people to take to farming. Industry is booming over there.”
The man in the field was busy working and did not see the group of lurking travelers beyond the property line. Impatient, Adelaide pushed her weight up using the fence and lifted herself off the ground. “Well? Are we going to go say hi?”
Urta nodded and climbed over the rather short fence, making sure not to land on any growing crops as he did so. “Careful of the crops, alright? Walk in the aisles.”
“Duh…” Sebastian muttered, though he would not have known that. Hector had tried to instill the idea that nature was cool and good into the minds of Osryn’s children over the years, but Sebastian had not particularly taken to it. Beyond his insect kin, Sebastian didn’t care much for the natural world. A piece of decomposing leaf litter stuck to his shoe as soon as he stepped into the aisle between rows, and he grimaced and wiped it off in the dirt. He flipped his hair out of his face, catching sight of Adelaide’s bemused smirk. “What are you looking at? Let’s go.”
“Your… your eyes, brother…” She told him, gesturing to her forehead. “You might want to cover them up.”
Sebastian gave an exaggerated sigh and pulled his bandana out of his pocket, tying it around his forehead to cover his four upper eyes. “Great, I’m blind now. Happy?”
Adelaide linked her arm with his to guide him. “Sure am.”
The group started walking down the row towards where the unknown person was working. It took a few minutes, as the farmland was rather vast, but they soon got within range of being seen. The person looked up and wiped sweat from his hair, staring with a thick furrowed brow at the approaching group of strangers. Osryn flushed slightly as he realized just how odd they must look–– A group of Lunoran travelers, out of their element in this world, and it showed in their attire and even their movements.
“Who goes there?” The young farm hand crossed his arms, a utility knife in one hand, and addressed the group before they got close. “What brings you city types to our humble farm?”
“We are simply looking for passage.” Urta stopped in his tracks and held out his hands innocently. The rest of the party fumblingly did the same. “May we speak to Kurt?”
The farm hand paused, looking over everyone one by one as though gauging their trustworthiness. Shrugging, he scratched his neck and flicked his work knife back into its closed position and into his pocket. “Do you know him? He’s not super friendly to strangers…”
Urta nodded and the group continued moving until they were within a few meters of the man. “I know him. He’s not super friendly to me, either.”
The farm hand couldn’t help but smirk at that. He seemed to be a teenager, perhaps a little younger than Adelaide and Sebastian, and had a warm, friendly smile with a dimple on the left side and somewhat crooked teeth. He held out a callused, dirt-stained hand for Urta to shake. “I’m Travis. I work here.”
Urta shook it. “Nice to meet you, Travis. I am Urta, and my friends are Osryn, Adelaide and Sebastian.”
Travis nodded along and looked each of them over. Osryn and Sebastian could not hide their discomfort with how, shall we say earthy this stranger was. Had he offered a hand to either of them, it is likely they would have denied the opportunity to touch his dirty flesh. Despite the mess their home constantly seemed to be in, neither father nor son cared to get their hands dirty. Adelaide, however, was taken aback by the handsome stranger. When he looked her over, she blushed visibly and he smiled, nodding in her direction. “Hi, there.”
“H- Hello…” She mumbled, twirling a strand of her hair at hyper-speed. “Your farm is beautiful.”
“Hey, why thank you.” Travis had been collecting cabbages in a large crate, and Adelaide blushed as he crouched down and flexed his toned arm muscles, lifting it without a sweat. “How about you guys come back to the house with me? Kurt’s probably there waiting for us already.”
“How would he already know we’re here?” Osryn questioned.
“He tends to keep an eye on things a little too well…” Travis said as they started walking in the other direction, where a two-story red house was clearly visible in the distance. Sure enough, there was an older man with a bald head, ratty clothes and giant wading boots waiting at the edge of the field near the house. Osryn was unnerved by the man’s evidently hostile posture, legs spread wide and arms crossed. Perhaps they should have taken a different route…
Farmer Kurt called out something Osryn couldn’t hear. Travis, apparently, could hear far better than he could, as he yelled back. “Travelers! They wish to speak with you!”
More unintelligible yelling from Kurt, and Adelaide scoffed, but Osryn still wasn’t able to hear it. A shiver ran down his spine. Had his hearing really gotten so bad over the years? It didn’t matter for long, as within minutes they were within a normal distance from the old farmer–– however, this unnerved Osryn even deeper.
“What are you people doing here?” Kurt asked curtly, arms remaining crossed tightly across his chest. “I do not take kindly to crop thieves.”
Though bald, Kurt Hansklau had a thin greying beard. It made Osryn thankful for his own hair, which was only gray in places, and his hairline had hardly receded. As though subconsciously trying to rub it in, Osryn took his ponytail and flipped it over his shoulder. “My name is Osryn Seld. I am a wizard from the town Lunora. We seek passage to Solelio.”
Kurt narrowed his eyes. “Wizard? Are you some kind of hippy?”
Osryn blinked. “Um. No… I am a wizard. A sorcerer.”
Travis interrupted the conversation before it got into dicier territory. “Uh, Kurt, I don’t think it’s very important what he does for a living. How about I go pick some beets and make up a salad for lunch?”
“It’s not lunchtime yet,” Kurt insisted. Osryn had never seen someone's posture be quite as closed-off and uninviting as Kurt’s somehow managed to be.
“I know…” Travis started nervously, glancing around as though perhaps the right words would fall out of the sky. “I just... I figured these nice people could use a bite to eat. They’ve been traveling, after all. And we have plenty of food.”
Kurt glared at Travis. Travis blinked.
“Okay, well, I’m going to go pick those beets!” Travis announced, and Kurt sighed, relenting.
“Can I come?” Adelaide asked as he started to walk away. “I actually really like beet salad. My auntie Daniela grows really tasty ones–– red ones, yellow ones… I’d love to see how they grow up close.”
Travis seemed a little taken aback by this request, and he had never met someone so passionate about beets, but he smiled and nodded.
“Oh, of course. I’d love to show a foreigner a little bit about life on the farm. Come on… um…” Travis trailed off, blushing as he realized he could not remember her name.
“Adelaide,” she reminded him, smiling and tilting her head. Travis nodded and reached out his hand. She took it and he dragged her off into the field.
Kurt seemed far less amused. Having been conned by Travis into hosting company, he softened slightly. His arms uncrossed and he beckoned Urta and the remaining Selds towards the house.
“Come, come… sit.” Kurt pointed at a few adirondack chairs on the concrete with an awning that served as his front porch, then wandered into the house. Osryn guided Sebastian towards a chair and sat him down, taking a seat in the other one. He took this moment to take a better look at the farm house itself and the surrounding area. Aside from some manual farm tools leaning against the front of the house, to the side there was a large stack of tires and an old dilapidated vehicle, and a tractor. Osryn wasn't surprised. Most people in Lunora could not afford cars anymore, but they were still manufactured for more wealthy individuals. In greater Solelio, farmers were able to apply for certain loans and leases to get their hands on the industrial equipment they needed.
“What does it look like, dad?” Sebastian asked quietly. Osryn hated how sad he got when he was forced to live a lie as a blind human.
“Well, it’s… rustic. That’s for sure.”
Kurt emerged from the house, then, wordlessly handing all three of them a can of extremely light beer. Osryn nodded in thanks, but didn’t take a sip. His stomach churned at the thought, in fact. He was still recovering from yesterday. Urta, however, immediately took a hearty swig.
“So, Mr. Hansklau,” Urta addressed the farmer, who was laying back in a chair rather irritably, like he wished he was just doing this same thing, but alone. “I have heard great things about your farm. I hear you dabble in both organic and conventional farming?”
Kurt scoffed. “I’m a farmer. I farm to make a living. The boy, however, got it in his head that one should ‘respect the land’ and ‘protect the environment.’ Organic crops don’t pay the bills… but after he wouldn’t stop badgering me, I allowed him to sequester some land for his dumb project.”
Unlike Urta, Osryn had less than zero interest in listening to the farmer ramble on about his techniques. He tuned out their conversation and turned his gaze to the field, noticing Adelaide and Travis in a row not too far from the house. Travis was on his knees, yanking massive beets out of the ground and moving his mouth, though Osryn could not hear what he said. Every time Adelaide saw one, she was awestruck by how large the root became under the ground. It was completely foreign to her, and her eyes were lit up with excitement. Osryn smiled. It was nice to see his daughter bonding with another young person.
“So, boy, you’re blind, huh?” Kurt addressed Sebastian, and it brought Osryn’s attention back to his immediate vicinity.
Sebastian hesitated for a second before nodding, unsure how exactly to navigate a conversation based on a lie. “Yeah. It’s a little difficult, but I’m used to it.”
“I’ve heard that blind folks have abnormally good hearing,” Kurt said, and Osryn narrowed his eyes, glancing at Urta. Urta nodded. They both could tell there was a strangely saccharine tone to the way Kurt spoke to Sebastian, a sweetness that was absent when he spoke to either of the adults.
“Yeah, I can hear for miles,” Sebastian said. He rested for a moment with a neutral expression before realizing he should probably smile. This was supposed to be a friendly conversation, after all.
“Amazing…” Kurt nodded repeatedly, eyes still locked on Sebastian. “I imagine you’re not well suited to farm-work… And I don’t just say that because you’re blind.”
“My son is very skilled in the field of linguistics,” Osryn disliked the implication that his son was weak or somehow deficient. Kurt narrowed his eyes. Osryn quickly added, “His godmother translated my entire linguistic collection into braille. Isn’t that amazing?”
“Absolutely. You’re a very talented boy, it seems.” Kurt nodded and smiled at Sebastian, who was blissfully unaware of the attention he was getting. Had he been able to see, he may have been creeped out at the way Kurt kept staring at him, but instead he seemed to be soaking up the praise and reveling in the attention. Osryn, however, felt like something was off, and he didn’t like it one bit.
Urta struck up another random conversation about farming and Osryn turned his attention back to where his daughter and Travis were working. The two were laughing and fooling around, now. Adelaide lost her footing in the narrow aisle between rows and Travis caught her under the arms. Osryn and Adelaide both tensed up when that happened, but it seemed Travis had not felt the existence of her hidden arms. Osryn watched as Adelaide realized this and her nervousness faded back into simple joy and she turned around to smile at her newfound friend… or suitor. Osryn had no way of knowing for sure, but the boy sure seemed to be interested in her. It was a shame, Osryn thought, that she had to hide her true self. The same went for poor blind Sebastian.
“Stop staring, witch,” Kurt snapped suddenly. “Don’t think I can’t see you looking.”
Osryn furrowed his brow and blinked. “I’m sorry? Have I done something wrong?”
“Don’t get any ideas about the boy.”
Everyone went quiet as Osryn and Urta processed the words that seemed to sail over naïve Sebastian’s head. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“You know what I mean…” Kurt growled. “He’s mine, you hear? Don’t go getting any ideas.”
It was evident now that there was nothing benign about the way Kurt spoke to Sebastian. Osryn looked to his son, then to the field where his daughter played with the boy Osryn now worried for. What the hell was Kurt doing with this kid? What the hell was he thinking of doing to his own kid? Without hesitation, Osryn rose from his chair and swept Sebastian onto his feet.
“Dad, what are you doing?” Sebastian whined as he was forcefully whisked off the porch and towards the field.
“We’re leaving,” Osryn said, directing his gaze out towards Adelaide and waving. “Laidie! Come back!”
Adelaide exchanged a look with Travis but the two started back towards them. As they did so, Urta rose as well, sensing the tension, and Kurt simply shook his head and leaned back in his chair.
“That’s right, witch, get out,” Kurt hissed, crunching his beer can and tossing it into a nearby wooden box that was chock full of them. He turned on that sickly sweet voice again and addressed Sebastian. “It was nice meeting you, son. If you’re ever in the area again, do come visit.”
Sebastian nodded and smiled. “Will do Mr. Hansklau.”
Urta quickly took Sebastian under his arm and ushered him further away. Osryn looked to Kurt with the harshest of judgment evident in his face. Kurt merely held onto the idea of animosity–– that Osryn was attempting to steal away what was rightfully his.
“Listen here, farm boy,” Osryn growled, summoning a ball of plasma in his hand. Kurt’s eyes went wide. So much for a hippy witch. “If you ever so much as look in my son’s direction again, I will not hesitate to show you what happens to men like you where I come from. I am not like you, and I have no interest in ‘your boy.’ I hope you rot in hell.”
It was clear that the threat had rattled Kurt to the core, as he had receded into himself and taken to nodding passively at every word that came out of Osryn’s mouth. Unsurprising. Osryn knew men like him were always cowards. Adelaide and Travis returned with arms full of beets. Bright-eyed Adelaide innocently asked, “What’s up dad? Why’d you call me?”
“We are leaving immediately,” Osryn said, protectively wrapping his arms around her, but she pushed him away.
“Why?! Travis and I just collected beets for salad––”
“Now, young lady, and I will not tolerate your insolence right now.”
Adelaide froze. Her father could be irritable, but this was a different kind of tension. She glanced at Kurt, who had beckoned Travis over to sit on the arm of his chair. Travis did so, confusion evident in his face, and Kurt put a hand on his back. A part of Osryn wanted to whisk this boy away… but even more of him wanted to whisk his own children out of the line of fire of this sick, twisted man.
“W- Well, it’s a shame you have to leave so soon,” Travis said. “Adelaide, do come visit sometime, alright?”
She nodded. “Of course!”
Before anyone could get another word in, Osryn was dragging both of his kids by the arm as far away as possible. Urta followed behind, shaking his head.
“So, where to next?” Osryn grumbled, trying to erase the negative experience from his memory as soon as he and his companions had made it to the opposite side of the large farm.
Urta scratched his neck nervously. “Well, I think we’d best avoid any more human contact until we get to the city. Things are starting to get a bit dicey around here…”
“Through the woods?” Osryn asked, pointing a thumb vaguely northward.
Urta nodded, but pulled his map out anyway to double check. “Yeah, a few miles that way and we should be in Solelio.”
“Ooooh, exciting,” Adelaide cooed, elbowing Sebastian and startling him. “You ready?”
“Ready for this to be over with.” Sebastian mumbled, and without further ado, they stepped into the treeline.
Insectera Book Two: Matters of the Heart, coming... eventually.
© 2022 Rychard Collins