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Home > Short Stories > The Sweetest Stalk

The Sweetest Stalk

The Sweetest Stalk

By S.E. Gordon

Cover Art by Annegret Ebert

Author's Note

The following short story was entered into Writers Weekly's 24-hour Short Story Contest on April 25, 2009. Aside from a few minor tweaks, one notable modification has been made--the main character's name has been changed from Scilla to Smira.

Here is the original writing prompt used for the contest:

"Silly Scilla, silly Scilla," the young girl sang, as she pushed another tiny blue flower into her hair. She knew she would have to remove these adornments before they returned to the house. When Mamm gently cleared her throat, the girl remembered the tiny celery seeds that had been spilling out of her apron all morning.

She sighed and settled down in an empty row, digging her bare toes into the cool soil. She froze when her foot bumped something hard. Scooping the dirt aside with her fingers, she found a tiny, tattered purse. Glancing at her mother to ensure her secret treasure was still a secret, she opened the clasp...

As you can see, Scilla is stamped all over the prompt. How original of me...So where did I come up with the name Smira? I suspect it had something to do with an old friend I stumbled across on Facebook--Samira.

So if you're out there, Smira, this short story is dedicated to you.

If you prefer to read The Sweetest Stalk on your favorite device, it is available as a free download from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Lulu and Smashwords.

The Sweetest Stalk

Smira of the Swampland was she, Daughter of Hollow, Goblin Princess of Bog. And heinous she was, even to goblin eyes, and it seemed nothing could be done for it. Then one day she sent herself on an errand, leaving behind a trail of seeds.

“Silly Smira,” her half-brother Kamm sneered, a radish-hued swampling with her father’s cruel brow. “Celery cannot grow in swamps. Foolish you are to think that you can do so, or that one day you would be queen.”

“So it shall be. You will see,” said she.

Off she went, deep into the tangled wetlands where wandering eyes must strain to see. At last she arrived at the spot, and thrust her goblin claws in deep. On and on she toiled, dredging deeper into the muck, kicking up sickly shades in the brackish waters. Fatigue crept in, but she did not falter, working the soppy soil till at last she struck something stout. “This is it!” She pawed with renewed vigor.

From the depths she wrested a tattered purse, the one that the faery had chimed about.

Not too shallow
Nor too deep
This taxing trove
Yours to keep

Smira filled it with seeds from under her dress, and buried it once more. “On and out the seeds shall sprout. Till magic binds and stalks unwind.” She danced.

The aid of faery magic was essential if the princess hoped to grow anything in these lands. It saddened her to think what her brethren might do if they happened upon one of the spritely spirits. Goblins were cruel scavengers at heart, with a keen taste for faery flesh. To spare her soul, she did not lend an ear to their dastardly deeds, but still their wicked words pierced her.

At last the swamp began to glow, illuminating from within. Eagerly she retrieved the shambled reticule. From its feeble cloth she plucked out a single seed, unlike the hundreds poured in. She peered at the seedling, now shining like a star. Abruptly it sprung from her hand, and burst from its gelatin shell. She gawked at her bounty: a tangle of limp, spidery leaves and nothing more.

“What am I to do with this weed?” She frowned, and then tossed it into the mire.

Bubble it did, all around, till the fetid broth foamed over. A creature of the swamp’s refuse rose, towering high above her and bemoaning its labored invocation. “Slumberwart, why do you steal me from my sojourn?”

“‘Twas not I. A faery made you be. I came to her seeking stalk for my murky haven, and instead she delivered you, o Servant of Stringweed.”

“A faery? From what divine quarter?” The giant raised its mossy head.

Underwood.”

Underwood is fowl,” he grumbled. “A Boggie’s Bowl of Fright found you in its place.”

“Indeed.” She brushed aside her sable hair. “What shall I do? A touch of celery I must find, to love and nourish my mingy peers.”

“Must you?”

“If I do not raise stalk, these lands will forever be deemed a wasteland, as will I. No suitor of noble blood will have me.”

“Are you suggesting a goblin prince? Do such things exist?”

“Aye. And celery is goblin gold that springs them from their muddy holes. A princess am I.” She curtsied.

“Indeed,” he replied. “Heart of gold, take mine of kale; from it all things prosper. In return, all I ask is that you relinquish the purse from whence I came.”

Smira thought it a fair exchange and handed it over. In her hand he placed his final offering before easing back into the putrid waters.

A fair distance back she trekked, skipping from puddle to puddle with glee. In her father’s dying willow she placed the heartling, and abruptly a stalk of celery shot into the sky. Creatures gathered from all around, gaping at the vast vegetable.

“Whoever summoned this from the marsh must be a mage of the highest order,” elves whispered among themselves.

“‘Twould be my sister, Smira,” Kamm grinned.

Many offered their hand, elf and goblin alike. ‘Stalkers’ her father called them, and he would have none of it.

The neverglade teemed with curiosity till the giant stalk grew seedlings of its own. More and more stalks shot up, and soon its legion began to sing. Not sweet lullabies of fae, mind you, but wretched rants that shattered the ear. The celery would not stop growing, nor singing.

Desperate to stave off the masses from fleeing his kingdom, King Gondegook ordered Smira to his throne. He inquired about her trip to the mudlands, and when she told him about the faery and the bog beast, his face darkened. “I warned you about playing with faeries. Now they have played us.”

“But father, all the beast wanted was the purse from which it came.”

“Purse? From whence?”

“Deep in the mire. No longer did I imagine its use.”

“‘Twas not a purse, but a faery trinket, buried long ago and hoped forgotten.” Gondegook’s massive hands shook with rage. “Reclaim gifts, faeries cannot. Duped into returning the harvest bag, you have.”

“But gave his heart did he, this creature of the bog.”

“A trick. ‘Twas the faery all along. And how many seedlings did you drop in?”

“Hundreds,” she frowned.

“Then a hundredfold shall rise. Faeries they are, forged from the flesh of celery.”

Suddenly the giant stalks tore out their roots and danced around. They jumped down the muddy lodgings, singing their sadistic songs, enough to send all of Noordük fleeing into the outer realms. Unable to stomach their hideous howls, Gondegook and the royal family exited the swamplands, leaving behind but one.

Smira gazed at the faery folk, her accidental creation. Slender and graceful with a passion for life, their youthful glow warmed her spirit. From them, the sweetest serving stepped forward.

“Beautiful creature, a princess you must be,” his voice was deep and soothing, unlike the others screeching around him.

“And thee, a prince.” She blushed.

“Hopefully I embody the fantasy that you hold dear,” he smiled. “Dillsing I am known.”

“Dillsing.” She eyed his silver stalk. “A name fit for a king.”

“I would be honored if I could have your name.”

Awestruck, she could not move her lips nor tongue, her heart swelling larger than it had before.

Soon afterwards, he offered his hand, and this one she accepted. And so Princess Smira became the Queen of Hollowree, the unlikely union between goblin and celery. Though not the fairest, Smira was adored by all of Brambleweed, her loyal subjects making her richer than anything that had ever skulked the swamplands.

THE END.

Glossary

Adura
A magical world similar to earth that hosts three moons (Talis, Adia and Octynine) and orbits the twin suns Nandus and Zaemoor. The gravitational forces of Nandus and Zaemoor neutralize each other, holding each other in place. Roughly translated, Adura means “enduring” or “the enduring one.”
Boggie
(1) A small, winged frog taken as a pet; commonly seen in the kingdoms of the cloud faeries. (2) An undersized frog often served with a side of mudworms to strangers passing by.
Boggie’s Bowl of Fright
A series of disturbing events that causes the loss of bodily functions, whitens one’s hair and/or invokes death.
Brambleweed
A chain of swamps located above Adura’s equator and bracketed by the wastelands and sea.
Emberbox
Magic sealed into a physical container or instrument that is meant to be forgotten or destroyed.
Fae
(1) Of or referring to faery folk. (2) Troublesome. (3) Wickedly enchanting.
Gobling
A young goblin.
Heartling
(1) A strong, young heart prone to emotional outbursts and often misguided. (2) The “heart of hearts”; the most tender part of one’s heart. (3) Kind-hearted.
Neverglade
(1) Another name for the swamps of Brambleweed. (2) A place that should not exist in the world of man, and one that you would not expect to leave alive.
Noordük
The swamplands to the east of Brambleweed held by King Gondegook.
Seedling
(1) A tiny seed teeming with magic. (2) A catalyst.
Slumberwart
(1) One who disturbs another’s sleep. (2) A pest that causes one to lose sleep.
Stew Sticks
Damaged or rotten celery often used to stir soups and/or spike the broth with its bitter taste.
Swampling
A creature entirely dependent on the swamp, typically young.
Underwood
The magical domain of the green faeries, which are bound to the woodlands and marshes of Adura.