• Published 22nd Apr 2013
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The Tale of Lord Barleycorn - Blue Cultist



The Harvest Family farm is on the brink of financial collapse. Can this 'Lord Barleycorn' really deliver on all his promises?

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1. Please not dandelion greens!

The Tale of Lord Barleycorn
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Chapter 1: Please not dandelion greens!
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Corn Crib was drenched with sweat. The corn-yellow filly had pulled weed after weed after weed but felt like she had accomplished nothing. The cart that sat by her side was filled to the brim with creeping charlie, dandelions, thistles and other weeds. The dandelions she might have been proud to sell in town, but not when they all came out of the carrot field.

The carrots themselves were looking worse than last year. The rabbits had dug up dozens of them, needing to eat so many due to the vegetable's stunted size. Looking behind her, Corn Crib could see the other fields were just as pathetic. The barley they grew for the Hollow Shades' brewery was lost under thick patches of ragweed. Corn Crib's elder brother, Leadfoot, was setting up more scarecrows in the corn field in a vain attempt to keep the tenacious crows and sparrows away. The only things that seemed to be unmolested were the pumpkins, if only because they were still immature, but the countless animal tracks in the dirt around them were a sign of things to come.

Corn Crib stood to stretch her back, only to feel a stiff, warm wind nearly knock her on her side. She'd been looking at the ground so long she hadn't noticed the black clouds filtering in from over the vastness of the Everfree forest. The rumble that echoed across the land to Corn Crib's ears brought a sigh rising up from her parched throat. After a look at the weeds in her cart and the weeds left to pull, Corn Crib was consigned to admit defeat and head inside.

"Leadfoot! Hey, I'm heading inside! Are you nearly done?" Corn Crib called into the rows of cornstalks. "I don't want to be here when the storm starts."

"Yeah, I just got the last one set up!" A fog hat gray stallion, nearly three times the size of his little sister, pulled himself from the corn. He whistled at the sight of the tall pile of green weeds in his sister's cart. "Mighty fine haul you got there."

Corn Crib gave Leadfoot a tired, but genuine smile. "Thanks, how many scarecrows did daddy have you put up?"

Leadfoot ran a hoof through his short-cut mane, "Three per field, and five in the corn. I had to use nearly all the old clothing in gramps's trunk to make them all."

A crack of thunder caused both siblings to jerk their heads in the forest's direction.

"Shame our weather team'll never get a storm like that cleared up before it hits town." Leadfoot shook his head, "Come'on sis, 'fore we get rained on."

The wheels of the cart creaked as Corn Crib pulled it along side her brother. The filly looked up at him with a smile. He never asked if she needed help, but she knew all she'd have to do is ask and she'd have a helping hoof.

After its cargo dumped in the compost heap, the cart was quickly replaced in the barn. Corn Crib never went further into the old barn unless she absolutely had to anymore. The barn had once been home to a small herd of cows. The filly remembered them seeming scary to her when she was very little, but she had warmed up to the bovines within a week. When they left for greener pastures in the neighboring town of Ponyville they took all the warmth and life in the barn with them. The only things living here now were in the long strands of spider webs that clung to every surface like ghostly curtains.

The Harvest family homestead was a modest two-story house that stood between the dirt road and the farm's other essential buildings. It had been a cheery place, one that Corn Crib only had the faintest memories of. Scraps of peeled, white paint were scattered in the now wild and unattended flower beds. Not a single pair of shutters hung straight, and the naked wood siding was graying from years of exposure. The longer Corn Crib looked at her home the more depressed she felt. The other farmers in her rural little town were doing far better, why were their fields so sick? Until the fields started producing better they could not replace a single board or apply one lick of paint.

Each porch step creaked with a different octave as Corn Crib and her brother approached the front door. The bare wood floor inside creaked just as bad as the steps, and the creaks from the kitchen were now synonymous with the dinner bell.

"Hey mom! We're back!" Corn Crib called toward the kitchen.

"Scarecrows are all up!" Leadfoot added.

"Good, supper will be ready in a little while!" Came the call of their mother, Harvest Moon.

Leadfoot halted his sister with a hoof on her back, head still turned to the kitchen. "What's for eatin'?"

"Please not dandelion greens..." Corn Crib silently prayed.

Harvest Moon answered back in a proud voice, "Boiled dandelion greens, cattails, and mushrooms!"

Corn Crib grimaced, another beastly meal of what her mother could gather from the forest. The one silver lining to her mother's poor meals was that they made Corn Crib appreciate simple things like cheese and fruit all the more. The thought of a muffin or anything baked in town made the corn-yellow filly's belly ache in longing.

The clatter of her brother's hooves jolted Corn Crib out of her muffin fantasy. She hurried after Leadfoot, how could she have forgotten about their traditional after-work race to the bathroom? Leadfoot's head start was unfair, but Corn Crib wasn't going to complain; she could just get back at him tomorrow.

The bathroom door slammed shut, and Corn Crib had to wait outside on her brother. Corn Crib stood by the door, listening as the water began to run. The sooner her hooves were washed, the sooner supper could be over and her tongue washed off. Quickly growing impatient, the filly started to pace, and in her loitering she heard her daddy's voice. Venturing away from the bathroom door, Corn Crib peeked into the living room.

Inside, on the couch was her daddy, a graying earth pony with an olive-drab coat and mane. His face was stoic as ever, but his eyes were locked on his forehoof, which was being wrapped in gauze by a familiar cherry-red pegasus in a doctor's coat.

"Alright Mr. Harvest, just stay off the leg and in a few days I'll come by to check on the stitches." Dr. Cherry Nova said, getting back on all four hooves with a tired groan. "I'm serious, I know you farmers think you're tough, but you try pulling a plow with that and the stitches will open and you'll tear that gash deeper."

"I'm not a foal, doc." Mr Harvest snorted, but his prideful retort was quickly undercut by; "I... can't suppose I can pay you in a hot meal, can I?"

"No." Cherry Nova scrunched his nose up in disgust before attempting to soften his answer, "No thanks. I'll just add this house call to your previous bill... which I should start calling your tab. I need to get back to my clinic, so until you get some money... stay healthy."

Corn Crib slunk back, not wanting to be seen by the doctor. She was never really sure how to react to the physician. He was sour, and didn't really like to talk about much of anything she thought was interesting. During her last checkup Corn Crib had tried to talk to him about her trip to Ponyville to visit her cousin Golden Harvest. Dr. Nova had only grunted and muttered a few words Corn Crib had never heard before.

As Dr. Nova came closer, her young ears caught him muttering under his breath. "Talents wasted... should be working in a hospital not some podunk little..."

The filly got a suspicious look from the doctor as he entered the hallway. Unfortunately for Corn crib, he paused and spoke to her. "Corn Crib. And how is your throat after last year's tonsillectomy?"

It was the dry, toneless way that Dr. Nova asked his question that gave Corn Crib an uneasy feeling in her stomach. "Just... um, fine Doc. Um, what happened to daddy?"

"Doctor-patient confidentiality." He stated dryly, "But if I were you I'd keep him off any more ladders."

With that, the stallion flicked his wings, and turned to leave. The way his left wingtip drooped like an empty, feathered sleeve made the filly cringe in disgust. At least Dr. Nova didn't see her staring.

A hoof suddenly tapped her shoulder, Corn Crib let out a startled yelp as she whirled around to face whoever did that. Her snout crashed into her brother's chest, and Corn Crib felt on her rump, rubbing her sore nose.

"Bathroom's all yours." Leadfoot chuckled. "Or you scared of another harrowing night at the family dinner table?"

Corn Crib shot her brother a nasty look, but it only lasted until she heard the door slam shut. "No more than you are of the Everfree?"

Leadfoot coughed, "Well... um... "

Corn Crib chuckled. "I'm just kiddin'. Meet ya at the table."

Leaving her brother to the horrors of the kitchen table, Corn Crib cautiously approached her father. The older earth pony was getting to his hooves, and doing his best to look as if putting weight on his foreleg wasn't causing him pain.

"Daddy? You okay?" Corn Crib asked, eyes on the bandages.

"Don't worry Pumpkin," Mr. Harvest said with a nonchalant nod of his head. "I'm just fine. Just a little tumble through the toolshed roof."

"A tumble?" Corn Crib's eyes widened in horror. "Daddy we keep the scythe and all other kinds of sharp stuff in there!"

"Just nicked my knee is all." Mr. Harvest reassured, "I should be all healed up before the fall harvest festival."

Corn Crib sighed, "Daddy, the festival's in three weeks. Besides, I don't think we can really compete with the Apple fam-"

One of Mr. Harvest's backhooves crashed down onto the floor. "The Apples are not to be mentioned in this house."

Corn Crib backed a step away from her father. "S-sorry daddy, I didn't mean-"

"Don't apologize Corn Crib." Her father said, firmly but not harshly like he had sounded before. "You keep your chin up, and endure. Just you wait, come harvest time we'll show everyone that the Harvest family are the hardest working farmers this side of the Everfree."

The pride her father spoke of was a familiar topic, but it always brought mixed feelings in Corn Crib. It reminded her of the near-destitute state of the farm, but also the hope that was needed to see them through the next day. Still, her father was the only one who made these statements; Leadfoot and her mother never once brought up the family in this light.

The wind roared at the window, causing the glass to clatter and the wooden siding to creak. The nearing thunderclouds flashed and roiled as they seemed to thicken, choking out the light of the sun as the neared the farm house.

Mr. Harvest wrinkled his nose. "Dang Everfree, always sending us wild weather..." He snorted. "Best get to supper now, and head to bed. Tomorrow we might have a lot more to do than tend the fields."

The yellow filly sighed as she followed her father to the kitchen. Her plate was already filled with greens and browns of mushrooms and dandelions. Corn Crib let out a defeated whimper before heading to the table. Maybe her unwashed hooves would make the meal taste better.

---

The Hollow Shades weather team only consisted of five overworked pegasi. They normally could manage the weather of such a small town in less than a few hours, but the winds from the Everfree Forest often sent them strange, anomalous weather. Wild storms like this were far beyond their ability to manage. There was nothing to do but hunker down and prepare for the worst.

Within an hour wind and thunder shook every home and every tree. Lightning crashed above and below, striking trees, the ground, and lightning rods that were a must on every building in Hollow Shades.

The corn rows in the Harvest farm were whipped and shaken, and if the corn were riper it would have thrown their ears to the ground. The scarecrows endured the rain and hail without a complaint, but the crops were less resistant.

Around the Harvest farm, the lightning was more prevalent, almost omnipresent. A hundred lightning strikes perhaps in a minute, all attracted to one particular site in the middle of the corn field. The hail and rain ceased minutes after, but the rain and thunder continued to rail against the town.

The moisture kept the corn from catching fire, but something stirred in the corn. Something not of Equestria. It stirred, roused from some long sleep, naked and confused. Rising on two feet it looked about, seeing only corn and a scarecrow staring down at it with a burlap face.

Its feet already covered in fresh mud, it reached up and tore the scarecrow from its post. Questions and fear roared in its mind, and the night was still young.

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To be continued...

Author's Note:

I know starting a story in a completely original setting can be off putting, as can populating the story with more than a handful of OCs. My reason is I wanted to get outside the common story anchor that is Ponyville. Also, I wanted to do a story that explores some of the background Ponies. I will say the mane 6 will be dragged into this eventually.

Hope to see some comments, as I welcome constructive criticism. Although, I will warn I did not have this proof read before it was posted. If anyone would like the job in the future, you got it.

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