Amid the Green Corn: Part One

by Cooper Young

Oh, please. Don’t pretend you missed me. How was the tryptophan poisoning?

Amid the Green Corn (Part One)

They were his. From this moment on, they were his. He would reshape their world to his liking. He would give them a lust for justice, a love of one another.

A hatred of the Rilikan.

“When I was young,” he began as the murmuring died, “in the days before the Bond, we were filthy creatures in love with metal and glass and ourselves. We did not grow. We did not gather. We traded for our food, and when we worked hard it was simply to have better food rather than any at all. It was a given that we would be fed. We grew fat and useless in our infatuation with abstraction. We sat in morbid dreaming, waiting for the day when the earth would turn against us. We knew it was coming; we theorized how it would and we planned what we would do. We argued ourselves half to death. Still, we were not ready. The world turned, and it broke us.

“The buildings began to leach a sickness. It killed the crops; it killed us. We fled to the wilderness. At the time, we were running from a certain death to a probable one. We tried to plant seeds from the food we’d earned. They wouldn’t grow. We tried to hunt, but the animals died before we could kill them. Those we did catch were rancid before they were dead.

“The sickness killed everything.

“It couldn’t kill us, though. We survived–myself, some of you, most of your mothers and fathers–because we knew or we learned quickly what needed to be done. We ran farther from the cities. We chased the last living things.

“If we had been lucky, that would have been the end of it. But the world was not done with us. I don’t think that any of us were ever meant to survive,  and when the earth saw that we would, it came after us again. It sent her to punish us.

“Twenty years ago, ten years after the Bond, some of our men came to the edge of a cornfield, a big one, bigger than anything we’d ever seen, right in the center of the forest. Green-eared corn, with kernels like fat emeralds. We’d never seen anything like it. Not the color. Not the scale. The first to find it was a man we called Shoulders Back in Anger, though I believe there are still those among us who remember his Soulname.” He nodded toward Mercury Rising, who stood stone-faced at the back of the gathering, his arms folded. “He led us there. We looked on it as a blessing, and we took all we could carry. It was ours by right. We had come far enough, we had survived long enough, and we deserved it.

“But we were barely back into the trees before they were on us, Triumph Justly Warring and the rest of the Rilikan. How many have actually seen her?” A few hands went up. “Ugly little beast. She is the last test of our people, the spirit of the green-eared corn. She is its guardian, a demon who starves our people! She is the last punishment of the earth!

“They had us on our knees before we could blink. They took the corn. Triumph Justly Warring made us a proposition: hand over our souls and become one with the Rilikan, or go home without tongues so we could tell no one where we’d been. But as we argued she changed her mind; she took our strongest man, Shoulders Back in Anger, and grinning like the demon she is she killed him there in front of us. She butchered him and cast half his pieces out into the field as an offering to the corn and the earth that gave it. The Rilikan ate the rest. Sated, she let us go whole.

“We went back in a week for vengeance. We went back again three weeks after that. We’ve gone back time and time again for twenty years to purge them from the earth and free the fields they guard. Tomorrow, we go back to take what is rightfully ours, the land claimed by Shoulders Back in Anger, the land he bought with blood, and we…”

“Horseshit. Nope. Sorry. Can’t do it.” Every head turned toward the back of the crowd and, standing with his arms upraised in what had been rapture, Fire in the Field felt his stomach drop. That bastard.

Mercury Rising shook his head. “I would have gone along with it. I was trying. I get it; I do. Clan unity, solidifying your power, politics, us-versus-them, whatever. You want to make a religion out of this madness, that’s fine. But leave my brother out of this. He’d just call you stupid and giggle while the Rilikan stabbed you in the neck.

“And to the rest of you,” he announced to the crowd, “I have this to say: Triumph Justly Warring is just a woman. She’s crazy and she’s dangerous, but she’s just a human who happened to have a garden full of seeds that would grow and two children whose food she’d defend at any cost. And she’s not the most dangerous person you’re going to meet out in those killing fields; that’s Mercy Speaking Softly. Believe me. He’s done more harm to our people and his than Triumph ever did. If you want to know how–if you want to know the truth of how this war started–feel free to come find me.” He turned to leave the circle of light cast by the bonfire.

“You do your brother an injustice!” Fire in the Field cried after him, desperate. “You would let his death go…”

“He’s not dead, moron, and you know it. He’s alive, he’s happy, and he’s going to kill anyone stupid enough to go stealing the Rilikan’s corn tomorrow. If anyone is interested in knowing why, it’s the same damn story I just offered you.” He disappeared into the shadows.

Fire in the Field carried on, trying to work his people back into their adoring frenzy. He spoke with his eyes shut when he could no longer stand to watch his audience dwindle. He would destroy him for this.