• Norma Hughes

KING ARGEAN's VEGETABLE GARDEN

Updated: Sep 22

Following the roguish advice given to me by a moss-covered gargoyle, I found myself incredibly lost in the foreign world I called the Land of Dust. It was so named for there appeared to have been a point in the worlds history where all was smothered by dust. No one knew where it blew from, or whether it had fallen from the stars. Nonetheless it stole away with the lives of many in a hungry, apathetic manner. Great cities were felled by the dust and many buildings were left empty, plants choked, and animals and monsters almost completely eradicated. It was then that the buildings began to wake, hence my previous ill-serving conversation with the stone gargoyle. I had wondered into a forest-like area, for there were still the abandoned trunks of withered trees, and the gargoyle had urged me further north deeper into the forest, where he said it would eventually clear. It did not, and instead I found myself surrounded by the most monstrous of plants, which I came to realise were overgrown vegetables. Leaves the size of trees that one could shelter under, tangled vines as thick as rope with gourds the size of whale calves. There was one night while walking through this garden that I comfortably used a snow pea as a sleeping roll. For all the time I walked through this garden, I heard a constant thudding noise. The deeper I walked, the more pronounced it became, till with trepidation I came across a small clearing. Before I could see clearly what sat before me, an awful smell reached my nose, bringing tears to my eyes and causing me to cough. The thudding stopped, and my eyes fell upon an emaciated figure chopping enormous onions into tiny pieces upon his little wooden chopping board. His skin looked like leather, his hair was thinning and peppered with grey. But most shocking of all were the two black pits in his shrivelled face where his eyes used to be.

“Who goes there?” he croaked, his bony hand shaking as he held his knife above his board.

“Forgive me” I replied, “I’m dreadfully lost.” The man lowered his knife and turned his ear towards the sound of my voice.

“I would not linger here” he said, “it’s a dangerous place to be in the King’s Vegetable Garden.” Curious I walked up to the man, ensuring I stepped heavily so he knew where I was, and I sat down beside him a while.

“Could you tell me your story?” I asked warily, for the man was tense. He heaved a heavy sigh and lowered his head.

“I used to be the chef of King Argean many years ago, back when I was young and still had my eyes. The King is…” and he paused scared to go on. “The plants listen is all” he said, “I can’t say too much.” I held his calloused hand comfortingly.

“I was working in the kitchens washing dishes for many years, but my sister became quite ill and I needed a greater wage to buy her more time[1]. In desperation, I stood up against the chef and asked him for a better position. At first, he appeared furious, but an idea came to him and he acquiesced. I would be in charge of the King’s Onion Soup. I was told that the King requests his soup every day and demands there be exactly forty-five onions in it. This was fine for a few months but on one particular day, after having stayed up most the night with my weak sister, I arrived to work late.

“Where’s my soup?” roared the King. Panicking, I chopped the onions, threw them into a pot, and mixed everything together as fast as I could. I ran through the long halls between the kitchen and King Argean’s dining hall and placed the soup before him myself. He sniffed it with his sharp crooked nose and bared his yellow teeth. Sweet poured down my face and neck as he dipped his spoon into the soup and slowly brought it to his lips. The king took a tiny sip before he lowered it to the table.”

“What’s this?” he asked, the room was silent.

“Onion soup, my King” I replied.

“Hah!” the King sneered, “you can hardly call this watery mess onion soup. You have only forty-four onions.”

I bowed before him, shaking. I begged for forgiveness and resigned immediately, but he shook his head, a malicious glint in his bloodshot eyes.

“You will go to the vegetable garden” he said shortly, his jowls quivering as he ground his teeth together and sneered down at me. I had heard stories of the vegetable garden, how it maddened all who entered it and I begged instead to be killed. He would not listen he had already made up his mind and I was dragged from the castle. I could not say goodbye to my sister, and to this day I do not know what became of her or if she is still alive. The plants watch me now; I cannot escape.” He shook his head, lost within his own thoughts for some time. “Please, you should leave here” he said, and he patted my hand. I got up and brushed my legs of leaves and dirt and started to turn back the way I had come.

“Thank you for sharing your story, I hope you find your sister” I said.

“Thank you for listening” he replied, and he resumed his work, the sound of his chopping haunting me as I walked away.

[1] This realm contains a liquid time which they use to maintain their health and longevity. It was discovered by a goblin named Ballord deep within the earth and is now greatly sought after.

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