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Though the city gleamed with gold and silver and rainbow-jeweled tones—oh, it was marvelous during sunset—Geran and his family had no desire to leave the wide rolling farmlands and live in the glittering city surrounding the castle. They, much like the other farmers in the region, were fiercely proud of the work they did to feed their kingdom, and living on the edges of the city brought with it a sense of autonomy besides. The only time the city guard really came out to investigate—aside from the odd drunken antic involving bemused livestock—was during the harvest, to collect taxes.

Geran and his family had risen early that day. They shouldered their old, sturdy equipment and made their way silently to the fields. Even the children spoke little as they trudged to their little plot of land.

Morning mist hung in the air, tense and cool, as they began their harvesting at the carrot patch. As tradition dictated, Geran crouched down to harvest the first two carrots by hand. He reached past the frilly leaves, grasped the stalks, and slowly pulled. With some coaxing, the root broke surface and slid free of the earth. It felt heavy; Geran’s heart pounded.

As dirt tumbled off the uneven surface, he saw that it was a large tangled root of healthy yellow-orange carrots. He laughed; from behind him came excited murmurs. Elated, he reached for the next leafy stalk, which seemed to hold a root heavier than the last. This time, the earth fell away to reveal a golden cylindrical object which tapered to a blunt point. The item shone dully in the morning sun, its surface covered with a fine dusty layer of soil. There was a heartbeat of silence, during which time everyone stared at the carrot-shaped item which was, unmistakably, of pure gold.

At this, self-control dissolved. The family surged forward and tore through the remainder of the plot in a frenzy. Shovels plunged into the earth; desperate hands crushed delicate, lacy fronds. Plants were uprooted, revealing more gold hidden in the soil that had grown alongside normal carrots. In addition to the gold in the carrot patch, there were red-stalked plants which had large, misshapen rubies instead of beets; glittering amethyst radishes; and turnips made of smooth diamond, cool to the touch. The pea plants were devoid of pods, as they had been harvested earlier in the season. The majority of them had yielded actual peas; however, there were some tiny, round gems as well, which shone brilliantly green. The potatoes had simply been lost to rot.

Sweating in the midday sun, the family carefully separated the jewels from the vegetables, nervously keeping an eye on the horizon and on nearby bushes. Thefts were all too common during harvests. It was sometime in the late afternoon that a figure approached them—a farmer from a neighboring plot. “Hello, Geran!” he said cheerfully. “Lynne, how are you?”

Geran’s wife blushed; Geran scowled. “Holden,” he said curtly.

Holden’s eyes widened. “Oh, goodness. You have a lot of jewels, don’t you? I mean … apologies, I don’t mean to say … you did have a fantastic harvest last year …” he trailed off. After a moment of silence, during which Geran stared stonily and Holden tried to recover, Holden suddenly said, “You know, I have rather a lot of vegetables. Potatoes, especially. I’d be happy to, er, trade you some potatoes … perhaps for some diamonds, or amethyst …”

Geran looked at his neighbor steadily. “It’s fine. We’re fine. We’re not in need of any assistance.”

“Right,” Holden said. “I was just offering. You know, if you ever do need help—”

“We’re fine,” Geran said firmly.

“Right,” Holden repeated. He bowed to Lynne, who looked agitated, and set off again towards his own field.

“He was only offering to help,” said Lynne anxiously.

Geran didn’t respond. “Come on, you lot,” he said to his children. “Let’s get this all sorted. The tax collector will be around soon.”

As the shadows lengthened, clopping hooves could be heard in the distance. Geran heard laughter in the distance as Holden bantered and joked with the tax collector and the city guard. He clenched his jaw, annoyed.

Eventually the tax collector came down the dirt lane, perched in his cart with a bored-looking guard. “Good evening,” the tax collector said politely. “Inventory, please.”

Geran gestured towards a drawing he had made in the dirt. Below the carefully scratched picture of each vegetable was a series vertical lines indicating how many of each had been harvested. Below that, a number of horizontal lines indicated how many of the harvested vegetables had turned up jewels. It was a system he had created and prided himself on, for he could not write.

The tax collected looked appraisingly at it. “Ah, yes. No potatoes?”

“No, sir. They didn’t last.”

The tax collector nodded sympathetically, and did some quick calculations. “Very well. You owe the kingdom twelve carrots, four radishes, six turnips, ten beets, and five handfuls of peas.”

Geran paled slightly. “That much, sir?”

“I’m afraid so.”

The farmer nodded numbly. He gestured to his family, who silently gathered the vegetables into a sack and handed it to the guard, who gave a quick glance inside. The guard said, “You’re missing a turnip.”

Geran turned a pleading eye to the tax collector.

“I’m sorry,” the tax collector said, gently but firmly. “You know the law.”

His son stepped forward, and dropped the smallest turnip he could find into the sack, where it landed with a distressing thud.

“You’re an honest man,” the tax collector said. “So many farmers try to sneak in a jewel or two.”

Geran didn’t speak.

“The prince thanks you for your contribution to the kingdom.”

The wagon rolled away, back towards the city. In the distance, under the setting sun, the city gleamed with gold and silver and rainbow tones, studded with a thousand useless jewels. It was, Geran thought bitterly, marvelous during sunset.

K. S. Shere is an environmental scientist with a Masters degree from SUNY. During the coronavirus lockdown, she became reacquainted with her first love: storytelling. Her writing is largely informed by her experiences as a second-generation immigrant. She lives in New Jersey with her black cat, Mage.
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