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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Melanie Goldmund on 12 December 2006 - 12:54am. |

Good Fertilizer is a story I wrote for the Fantasy Short Story contest on the website of LDS author Loralee Evans in October 2006. I'm proud to say that it won the Grand Prize! I'm also very pleased that another LDS author, Stephanie Black, helped me edit this story to bring out the best in it.


"Now when I die," said Itzamna, "bury me out there under the ka'an trees. I'm good fertilizer, you know."

Kinich Ahau pulled his gaze away from the window and the ka'an trees in question, and shifted slightly in his chair to face the bed. "I don't want you to die."

"Don't want to do all the work by yourself, you mean," the old man teased, making the moment easier.

"That is no more and no less than the truth." Kinich Ahau was able to tease back. "And speaking of help with the work, I was thinking of going to the school at the temple this very afternoon and asking for a new companion."

Itzamna straightened in mock indignation. "You wait until I'm in my grave, my little seedling, before you try to replace me!"

"I always was impatient," Kinich Ahau reminded him.

Itzamna smiled a little. "Impatient? I remember when you first came to the farm. You were more than just impatient. The way you used to sulk . . ."

"I was angry," Kinich Ahau admitted. "I felt cheated, being given the gift of farming when I'd imagined and hoped for something much more spectacular. And I was scared of you."

"Scared? Of me?"

"I believed you were as gruff as you made out. You put the fear of the underworld into me."

Itzamna smirked weakly, and Kinich Ahau grinned back. There was silence until Itzamna finally asked, "Well, what are you waiting for? Why aren't you out there, digging my grave?"

"Because you taught me how not to be impatient anymore," Kinich Ahau said simply.

"I did?" Itzamna exclaimed in mock surprise. "Well, now I can die of sheer satisfaction! I didn't think I would ever accomplish that!"

They grinned at each other, and Itzamna went on. "Of course, don't think there's nothing more you can learn. There are still a few things I want to teach you."

"Now that I have mastered patience, I'm sure I can learn anything else much more easily," Kinich Ahau offered.

"I'll start by teaching you when to leave an old man to his rest," Itzamna said with a tired sigh.

Kinich Ahau's teasing mood vanished instantly. He placed his hand on the older man's shoulder and squeezed it gently, then stood up. "That will be harder than patience."


When he had finished filling in the grave near the orchard of ka'an trees, Kinich Ahau leaned on his shovel and looked out past the little circle of mourners, over to the fields. If he squinted, he could just see the road that led to the temple and the school there. He remembered how excited he'd been when he’d been chosen to attend it. During his time there, he'd worked hard as he'd prepared to gain his spiritual gift. He'd wondered constantly which gift it would be and daydreamed about the great things he would do with it. Kinich Ahau also keenly remembered the sharp pain and disappointment of "only" being called as a farmer. Looking back, he found it incredible that he could ever have been so blind to the value of his gift, or that he'd ever resented the man who'd become more than just a teacher or a companion.

"I'll make good compost, just like any other plant," Itzamna had often told him in the last year, when he had finally admitted that his physical body was wearing out. "My season as a growing plant is ending, and soon I'll be part of the dirt to help other things grow. I won't be lost; I'll just be different."

Kinich Ahau let the tears run down his cheeks. He hadn't wanted Itzamna to be different. He hadn't wanted to lose his old friend. But even the most productive plants withered eventually, and new ones came in their place, as surely as spring followed winter. He'd cry to-night -- they all would -- but to-morrow, he'd have to place the double saddle on Bumpy, their old mek, and fly to the school to ask about a new companion.


"How blessed you are. One of our students was gifted for farming just yesterday evening," the secretary said. "If you'll wait here, I'll bring him out."

There was a bench, but Kinich Ahau remained standing. The last time he'd been in this room of the school, he'd thought he was being rejected, being given an inferior spiritual gift and sent away to where it wouldn't matter if he did well or not. No wonder he recalled the room as being dark and oppressive, though it was nothing of the sort. There was even a picture on the wall of the Great Teacher himself, the source of all gifts.

Kinich Ahau's ruminations were interrupted by the young man entering from the school side of the room, holding a bag with his belongings. He was tall and broad-shouldered, just right for farming, and as soon as he saw Kinich Ahau, he stopped.

Ignoring the dismay he could see in the young man's eyes, Kinich Ahau strode over with a smile on his face and extended his hands. "Greetings, my new companion. My name is Kinich Ahau."

The boy maded a valiant effort to appear less heavy-hearted. He touched the palms of his hands to Kinich Ahau's, then said, "My name is Etz'nab."

Etz'nab was a strong name for a strong young man. "Do you mind if I call you Nab?"

"Yes," the boy snapped.

Was I that prickly, too? Kinich Ahau wondered as they went outside to where he'd left Bumpy in the forecourt. The mek had moved away from the doors to spread his wings in a sunny spot, but when Kinich Ahau whistled, Bumpy got up and meandered towards them. As Etz'nab stared at the ancient mek, the forlorn expression came back to his face for a moment before he managed to smother it. Kinich Ahau was reminded of how dejected he himself had felt, the first time he'd seen Bumpy. He could still remember what he'd secretly been wondering.

"Don't worry, Bumpy can still fly," he reassured the young man as they climbed into the saddle. "He's more spry than I'll be at his age."

"Yes, Companion," Etz'nab said.

"You can just call me by my name," Kinich Ahau said, but the boy didn't reply.

As soon as they'd settled in place, the mek flapped his wings and took off. Making conversation was difficult against the wind, so Kinich Ahau said nothing, and neither did Etz'nab After they landed, Kinich Ahau dismounted and helped the boy down, watching surreptitiously to see how he was taking his first glimpse of the house and the rolling fields around it. Etz'nab swallowed once, but otherwise managed to keep his face neutral.

"I hear tell that a man in Banche has invented a saddle with wings that can fly on its own," Kinich Ahau remarked casually.

"He's got the spiritual gift of inventing." Etz'nab emphasized the "he."

"Is that the gift you wanted?" Kinich Ahau guessed, and Etz'nab clenched his teeth together without speaking.

Feeling the boy's need for comfort, Kinich Ahau said, "Receiving the gift of farming is not the first level of eternal torment. I know it seems that way now, but it really isn't."

Etz'nab did not answer or look at him, and they put the saddle away in silence. Exiting the barn and watching Bumpy making himself comfortable in his favourite patch of dust, Kinich Ahau was suddenly reminded of his first days on the farm, and what Itzamna had done with him. He hadn't thought of it for years, but now the memory came back with startling clarity.

"Come with me," he said to Etz'nab. "Let me show you our farm."

They walked around the fields, and Kinich Ahau pointed out the different crops. Etz'nab remained silent, but the expression on his face said everything that his voice did not. Eventually, they came to the orchard of ka'an trees and the fresh grave near it.

"My companion," Kinich Ahau said.

"I'm sorry," Etz'nab said, but the hollowness of the words caused Kinich Ahau more pain than if the boy had said nothing.

He looked down at the mound and sighed. "You feel cheated, I know. You were excited about being chosen to study at the school and you worked as hard as you knew how. You'd probably already decided in your mind which gift you were going to get, and you knew exactly what great things you were going to do with it. But then you got a gift you didn't expect or even want, and you feel like you've been thrown away, abandoned to some kind of slave labour here on a farm, of all things. You're hurt, you're angry, and you feel like a failure."

To Kinich Ahau's surprise, Etz'nab nodded shortly in acknowledgement.

"But if the world consisted only of grain, there'd be no fruit. If there were only roads, there'd be no fields, and if there were only fields, there'd be no cities." Kinich Ahau heard Itzamna's words coming out of his own mouth. "Every gift is necessary, even farming."

Etz'nab said nothing. Looking at him, Kinich Ahau remembered the time he'd listened to those exact words and felt the same skepticism that Etz'nab was currently showing.
Patience, he told himself. Ka'an didn't grow to harvest ripeness in a single day. It would take time for Etz'nab to forget the perceived pain, and even more time for him to appreciate what he had here. Now Kinich Ahau would do what Itzamna had done to him so many years before. He'd start the growing process by planting a seed.

"Close your eyes," he said, closing his own so that he wouldn't see the look of incredulity on the boy's face. "Reach out for your gift. Do you feel it?"

It was second nature for Kinich Ahau to reach out to his own gift, a sense that was similar to the other five, yet completely different from all of them. Now he extended that sense towards the glow of life on his right hand side. Etz'nab still wasn't saying anything, and Kinich Ahau was keenly aware of his struggle.

"Relax," he told the boy. "Join with me."

Etz'nab's hesitation was palpable, and Kinich Ahau began to worry that the boy would close himself off from the gift just to spite him. After a long moment, however, Etz'nab's hesitation waned, and his expanded consciousness tentatively touched Kinich Ahau's.

"Good, good," Kinich Ahau praised, then asked, "What do you sense?"

Etz'nab was too quick to reply. "Nothing."

"Nothing?" Kinich Ahau repeated gently.

"Nothing. Nobody!" Etz'nab's despair flooded through the link, like the coolness when a cloud drifted across the sun.

"There are other people on the farm," Kinich Ahau said. "My wife, for instance. Itzamna's wife. You can't feel them?"

As he felt Etz'nab turn his consciousness to search for the flickering fire of life, Kinich Ahau refrained from mentally pointing the way, and simply waited. He could sense that Etz'nab was squeezing his eyes tightly shut, as though that would help him concentrate better, but decided not to correct him just then. Eventually, the boy moved beyond physical senses and Kinich Ahau felt a mental burst of surprise and delight as Etz'nab became aware of the other people.

The link between them vanished abruptly.

Kinich Ahau opened his eyes. Etz'nab was staring at the farmhouse in the distance as though expecting to see some of the occupants. "They're so far away. I thought they'd be closer."

"But you sensed them anyway. You could feel that they were alive."

"Just barely." Etz'nab sighed impatiently. "And I don't understand what this has to do with farming."

Kinich Ahau motioned to the ka'an trees. "Plants are alive."

Etz'nab's face showed confusion at first, but then he turned his gaze to the orchard. The longer he stared at the trees, the faster the confusion drained away from his face, to be replaced by a thoughtful expression. As Kinich Ahau watched, the boy actually shut his eyes, and one of his hands twitched towards the closest tree. Etz'nab was reaching out, on his own. The seed had been planted, and now it would grow. Soon, Etz'nab would be able to sense not only the living plants, but also to use his gift to encourage them in their growth and help them produce to their fullest potential. Kinich Ahau wanted to shout with triumph, but settled for looking fondly down at the grave instead.

I'm good fertilizer, you know, Itzamna had said, and Kinich Ahau knew that it was no more and no less than the truth. Just as his companion's body was now being absorbed into the earth, so had his teachings long since been absorbed into Kinich Ahau's life. Now, they were being passed on to Etz'nab, and Kinich Ahau could see them being passed on to Etz'nab's companion, one day in the far future. Itzamna wasn't lost; he would be helping other things to grow -- forever.

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Beautiful--no other word for

Beautiful--no other word for it. The life-changing experience here is very poignant. Would that we were all in tune so well.

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I love the imagery.

I love the imagery. Beautiful story. Both my thumbs up for this one.

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A cool Story!

A cool Story!

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