• 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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3. My bills usually come on Saturday.

The Tale of Lord Barleycorn
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Chapter 3: My bills usually come on Saturday.

=== Ponyville ===

Carrot Top set down a presentable bunch of carrots in her kiosk to show off for potential buyers. Whole baskets were full of the orange vegetables, all freshly pulled from her garden this morning.

Other vendors were selling, haggling, but Carrot Top knew she didn't have to worry about her wares. A pony might be thinking about getting a tasty rose or a cupcake from Sugar Cube Corner, but she'd always need her vegetables. Carrot Top was hoping to be sold out by the end of market time, she had a few improvements to her home that would require most of today's income for sure.

"Hello Carrot Top. Ten carrots please." Fluttershy asked, first in line for a change.

Carrot Top smiled and placed her produce on the counter of her little kiosk. "Twenty bits please."

Fluttershy's smile fell at the mention of their price. "Twenty bits? But... last week it was twelve for ten."

"I've needed to increase my prices." Carrot Top smiled, "Mind you, this is only two bits per carrot, and as you can see they are exceptionally large."

Fluttershy looked at the orange roots and frowned. The pegasus narrowed her eyes as she judged the vegetables, turning them over to look for signs for rot. Carrot Top was confidnt Fluttershy would find no flaws in her wares, and the vegetable vendor allowed herself to show it.

"Hm, could you take fifteen for them?" Fluttershy asked with a firm voice.

"I'm sorry, but I have to insist on twenty." Carrot Top smiled, "If they were smaller I could part with them for less."

"They are rather large. How... about seventeen?"

"Hm, well, could you stop by and talk to a rabbit family that's started living near my garden?" Carrot Top leaned forward, whispering clandestinely. "Throw that in and you can have them for fifteen."

Fluttershy beamed and nodded silently before setting down three five-bit coins before walking off to another kiosk. Carrot Top however had turned around under the pretense of getting another bunch of carrots. Sure those carrots were worth more than fifteen, but getting those carrot-munching little bandits off her property for free was worth forty bits! In effect, the orange mare had managed to get Fluttershy to work for her for only five bits.

Feeling pretty proud of her shrewd bargaining skills, Carrot Top set a new bunch up and sat down to await her next customer. Hearing the clip-clop of somepony approaching, Carrot Top got ready to greet her.

"Hello, lovely morning isn't it?" Carrot Top asked in a cheery tone worthy of Pinkie Pie.

"I dunno, I think the weather team could have left a few more clouds here and there."

Carrot Top opened her eyes to see one of Cloudsdale's more infamous residents. The gray coat, the mail mare pouch, those eyes...

"Hi Derpy." Carrot Top tried to remain calm. Derpy's hooves were all on the ground and there were no thunder clouds around. Everything was fine...

"Heya Miss Top." Derpy chirped, "I know I should drop your mail by your house, but I need to get my midday snack and... well, you see where I'm going with this?"

"Huh, my bills usually come on Saturday." Carrot Top mused, "No matter, its two bits a carrot."

Fishing into her mail bag, Derpy set a single letter on the kiosk's display counter. With the mail officially delivered, Derpy then set out a five-bit coin.

"Two carrots then." The mail mare asked, her left eye drifting upward.

The beauty of doing business with a mailmare while she was on the job was that she didn't have time to haggle. When she was younger, Carrot Top had made the mistake of trying to gouge prices to a different mailmare. Ever since having her mail dumped down on her head for a week, she made it a point to play nice. After all, the mailmares were the real ponies who ensured her bills were paid.

Derpy was another matter altogether. Being unpredictable and accident prone as she was, Carrot Top felt she should be extra kind to Ms. Hooves. The carrot vendor took the five coin and slid three carrots over to the mare.

"Have another half price for bringing me my mail." Carrot Top pulled the letter off the counter. Better to have it safely in her grasp before some freak wind blow it away. Things like that happened around Derpy.

Derpy mumbled a "Thank you" while crunching on one of her newly acquired vegetables. With the mailmare moving away from Carrot Tops' stall without any incident, and without an immediate customer to service, Carrot Top looked at the letter.

Carrot Top was never one to get unexpected mail. Her friends all lived in Ponyville, and her family only sent letters on holidays. It was addressed from Hollow Shades, a town Carrot Top was only marginally familiar with.

A knock on the counter startled the orange mare. Standing with her hooves dangling over the counter was a pale yellow mare with a raspberry mane.

"Hey Goldilocks." Roseluck teased, "Watcha doin?"

"Just got a letter is all." Carrot Top didn't look up right away to greet her friend. The letter was the biggest puzzle she'd had in a while. "Ever been to Hollow Shades?"

Roseluck tapped her chin. "Hm, once. No, Twice. If Canterlot is the big city compared to Ponyville, then Ponyville's the big city compared to Hollow Shades. An old logging town, I think."

"Logging?" Carrot Top blinked, raising her gaze to her friend.

"Yeah, if I remember the story right, it was originally just a logging camp built inside the Everfree. The more trees they cleared the more ponies moved there." Roseluck chuckled, "Which wasn't many. Last time I was there most of it was farmland. Pretty boring, really."

Roseluck looked to the letter, then to Carrot Top. "And you got a letter from that dinky town, huh?"

Carrot Top nodded. "Perceptive, you have something on your mind?"

"Not really, was going to ask if you wanted to join me, Lily, and Daisy later at Sugar Cube Corner." Roseluck shrugged, "Pinkie's throwing a party there. Don't ask me the reason why, it could just be a Tuesday party. All that really matters is plenty of free cake."

"Sure, in a little bit. I can take my lunch break early." Carrot Top ripped open the letter.

"What's it say?" Roseluck asked, beating her hooves on the counter in a drumroll.

"Just a sec." Carrot Top cleared her throat.

"Dear Cousin Golden,

I hope you are doing well, you might not remember me from the Harvest family reunion a few years back. I was the stallion who ate all the apple fritters and got sick? You were very kind to sit and talk to me when I had to sit out of the relay race.

I'm sorry for this letter coming out of nowhere, but here in Hollow Shades we're really struggling. You're the only family we have in fifty miles that hasn't moved on from farming. Our fields are not doing very well, and if we don't get help quickly we will be forced to sell everything to cover our financial debts. If you can find a few friends willing to come to Hollow Shades, please come as quickly as you can. If nothing else, at least come to assess the situation.
-Your grateful cousin,
PS, I really would like to see you again Cousin Golden."

"Sounds serious." Roseluck eased herself off the counter. "Why'd this Leadfoot call you 'Golden'? Is my little nickname for you more accurate than I thought?"

Carrot Top snorted at her friend's teasing, "Golden Harvest. That's the name I was born with, but I changed it when I moved to Ponyville." The orange mare looked at Roseluck, "Please keep that under your hat. I don't want to start a fuss."

Roseluck tilted her head. "What do you mean? You have some dark secret or something?"

"No, it's just a bit of family drama I want to avoid." Carrot Top looked around, and upon spotting Applejack at her stand Carrot Top leaned in to whisper to Roseluck. "I know you're good with secrets, but suffice to say the Apple family and mine don't have a very good history."

"Color me intrigued." Roseluck mused, "If you go, count me in."

Carrot Top frowned at her friend's transparency. Roseluck was a good gardener, but she could be a little too nosy for her own good.

Carrot Top set the letter face down on the counter and ran a hoof through her mane. "I'm not sure if I can. I'd need to find somepony who can watch my gardens for me."

"What about Berry Punch?" Roseluck offered, "She and you are pretty close."

"Yeah, well... maybe. But what about your roses? Your whole flower shop?"

Roseluck dismissed the question with a wave of her hoof. "Lyra owes me a favor or two."

Carrot Top's eyes narrowed. "Really? Lyra looking after your store?"

"She's really not as clumsy as everypony thinks." Roseluck looked down at her hooves, then at the stall down the way, then coughed. "Usually. I'm sure she'd do fine."

Carrot Top chuckled, finally getting a chance to rib Roseluck for a change. "Not feeling as confident as we thought, are we?"

"Er, let's focus on the matter at hoof." Roseluck coughed again. "I could raise the issue to Lily and Daisy, see if either of them want to come. Of course, Applejack'd be the real mare to ask about-"

"No." Carrot Top hissed, shooting a firm glare at her friend before easing up. "Look, I'll take my break and we can go meet Daisy and Lily. Let's hit the party, then find out if they can manage the trip. One word to Applejack, and you can forget about my friend discount."

Roseluck frowned, "Okay, okay. I'll stop teasing."

"Good. Let me get my break sign up, and we can head on over to Sugar Cube corner." Carrot Top turned away to put her display carrots away.

Roseluck shook her head as she watched her friend close shop. Looking over at Applejack, Roseluck couldn't fathom what the trouble would be. Applejack was a friendly mare, willing to do anything to help a friend and neighbor. Was Carrot Top suggesting she'd turn hostile at the mention of the Harvest family? Was it some kind of family feud? The itch to know what this little secret was had set its claws in Roseluck's mind. She had to know what it was, even if it meant subjecting her precious roses to Lyra's care for a fortnight.

=== Hollow Shades ===

The school bell finally rang. For Corn Crib, it had felt like years had passed inside the walls of the little school house. She skipped down the dirt road toward home, humming her excitement. She'd spent the whole day pondering what changes she might see in her home upon her return. When she had seen that the shoemaker's cart was indeed gone, Corn Crib was certain she hadn't imagined the whole strange event that morning.

The day dreaming in school had set Corn Crib up for disappointment. There were no miraculous changes in the farm. The fields were still full of weeds, the farm house was just as the filly had remembered it this morning... The only change was the tool shed roof was repaired, and Corn Crib had seen her brother and dad working on before heading to school.

Setting her lunchbox by the back door, Corn Crib was about to go investigating when she heard the screen door open.

"Have a good time at school, hon?" Came the voice of Harvest Moon.

Corn Crib turned, seeing her mother walk out onto the porch. "Er, yeah Momma. Was just goin' out to see what Dad and Leadfoot were doin'."

"They're in the south field, I think. I just came in to start dinner." Mrs. Harvest sighed, "Corn Crib, were you using my broom this morning?"

Corn Crib shook her head. "No, I haven't touched it."

Harvest Moon snorted, "I know I didn't move it, and your father wouldn't touch it." The older mare looked down at the porch in thought. "Oh well, I'll ask Leadfoot when he comes back in."

Corn Crib cleared her throat. "Um, momma? Everything alright? Nothin weird goin' on?

"No, just the usual drudgery." Harvest Moon sighed, "I almost wish something would happen, if only to give us some new topic at the dinner table."

Corn Crib nodded, quickly casting her eyes out to the field, hoping to see something, anything usual. "Right, I'll go get my cart and go pull some more weeds."

"Bring back any good dandelion greens you find." Mrs. Harvest frowned, "I get tired of them too sweetie, but they beat starvation."

While that might have been true, Corn Crib wasn't hungry enough to praise the meal she'd been eating for two weeks. Trotting to the barn, Corn Crib once again looked out along the farm. True to her mother's word, she spotted two moving figures on the edge of the southern field. Mending one of the fences no doubt. They kept some of the larger animals out, but the rabbits and mice would simply breeze underneath them. Part of Corn Crib wondered if inviting the wolves and coyotes to wander the fields at night might do their crops some good.

After pulling the barn door open, Corn Crib took four steps inside before noticing the change in the barn. Not a speck of dust rested on the equipment, not a single spiderweb hung from the milking stalls or rafters. The cart Corn Crib had come to fetch was sitting where it always had, but every scrap of dirt was swept away. If not for the water stains in the wood, the cart would have looked new.

"Leadfoot must've done this..." Corn Crib was unconvinced by her own words. Her brother had far more important chores than cleaning.

Before she could leash herself to the cart, she noticed the broom standing in the corner by the door. She hadn't been able to see it coming in. Leaving the cart to stand in the center of the barn, Corn Crib poked around the barn to see just how far this sudden cleanliness went. The haystacks in the haymow was likewise free of spiderwebs and neatly stacked. Everything on the first floor was right where it was supposed to be, except for the familiar layer of dust had been stripped away.

A smile soon formed on Corn Crib's face as she observed the dirt floor of the barn. Much of the floor was swept, but faint traces of the mystery cleaner were here and there. As Corn Crib examined the floor around the stalls she found a spot that was forgotten or overlooked. It wasn't a hoof print but a narrow boot print, like the footware Lord Barleycorn had been wearing.

Corn Crib let out a squeal of excitement, what else had he done around the farm? And what else was she going to see change today?

After getting the cart out, the filly got to work in the fields. Despite what she had told her mother, Corn Crib couldn't bring herself to bare the tedium of pulling weeds for very long. Dragging her cart, Corn Crib inspected the furthest reaches of the farm. Nothing had been altered, at least not yet. The Filly settled into a little weed pulling near the stream that flowed from the Everfree. When the dinner bell rang, Corn Crib had enough weeds to appear like she'd been working hard and not wandering around.

Dinner itself was a little late, but still was the usual affair in the Harvest household. Despite Harvest Moon mysteriously losing her favorite stew pot, (and to everypony's dismay) the food was the same menagerie of poorly spiced weeds and forest scraps the family matriarch had found. Mr. Harvest spoke to Corn Crib once about her school day before moving onto what needed to be tended to next on the farm, which the filly tuned out. When dinner was finished and cleaned up, Corn Crib took followed her brother up the steps to their rooms.

"He, um, Leadfoot?" Corn Crib timidly ventured, "Did you ever find that scarecrow?"

The gray stallion gave a tired shake of his head. "Not a trace. I kept an eye open the entire time I was out with dad and nothin."

Leadfoot pushed the door to his room open. "You didn't see it did you? 'Just bugs me not knowing where something is."

"Not really." Corn Crib nibbled on her lip. She never lied to her brother, but this wasn't exactly a lie... kinda. "But I'll keep an eye out for it."

"Thanks. But I'm sure whatever critter got at it is long gone." Leadfoot paused at the door. "Can't really figure what critter would drag a lump of straw off though. Timber wolves maybe, no idea what they eat I guess but I've never heard of them coming near the farm."

Corn Crib blinked. "Somethin' attacked your lost scarecrow?"

"I dunno," Leadfoot cocked his head back to his sister, smirking darkly. "Whatever happened all I found were a monster's footprints and straw strewn everywhere. Maybe it was looking for a meaty little filly to nibble on."

Unnerved, Corn Crib tried to laugh off her brother's successful attempt to scare her. "Eh heh heh... good one Leadfoot." She yawned, "See ya in the mornin'"

"Night lil' sis." Leadfoot answered, already disappearing into his room. "Oh, and thanks for cleanin' the barn for us."

Corn Crib stared at her brother's door. Leadfoot had been in the barn, but he hadn't noticed the scarecrow that had to have been in there for hours?

Retreating to her room, Corn Crib flopped down on her bed. The simplicity of laying limp on her mattress after being active all day was just what she needed. Closing her eyes, Corn Crib felt her muscles relax but her mind refused to follow suit.

"How did daddy, mom, and Leadfoot not see him?" Corn Crib pondered, "It'd take any pony all day cleaning to get the barn looking like that. Maybe he can do magic like a unicorn? Maybe he doesn't even have to be near the barn?"

Corn Crib reached up to turn off her bedside lamp. At last the dark swallowed her vision, finally allowing her eyes to rest along with her body.

Rolling onto her side, Corn Crib grumbled as she felt the light of the moon against her eyelids. The cloudless night sky was giving Princess Luna's charge the opportunity to shine full force into the filly's bed room.

The bed groaned once more as Corn Crib rolled back onto her hooves and trotted to the window. The curtain's draw string was just about to be pulled when Corn Crib noticed something moving outside.

The moonlight had washed all the color from the world, leaving everything black or an ashen gray but Corn Crib saw the barn door ajar. Striding down the farm's path was a figure, tall and carrying a hoe on its shoulder. Corn Crib grinned upon recognizing the bipedal scarecrow she met on the road.

Sleep long forgotten, Corn Crib cocked her ears to the hallway. Hearing nothing stirring the filly crawled out her window onto the porch roof. Harvest Moon would have had Corn Crib's flank tanned for climbing out like this, but her mother didn't have to know. From the porch roof, Corn Crib silently moved to the oak tree that stood nearby and with a few careful leaps onto its low, wide branches the corn-colored filly was on the ground.

"Time to see what this scarecrow can do." She said to herself as she hurried in the same direction Lord Barleycorn was headed.


To be continued...

Author's Note:

Thanks to Maverick Frond for beta reading this for me. :3
coming up with stuff for Carrot Top/Golden Harvest was fun. What could this big secret be? x3

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