C E Huntingdon
Chapter 1: Makers of Food
In the sullen country of Himelforth, in the province of Himelforth, in the district of Himelforth, the cloudy, murky hamlet of Himelforth went about its daily life. Grim, gray shadows lay over shabby huts and barren land. Tired villagers worked dead fields, trying desperately to find any scrap of grain that could be added to their sparse evening meal. Children’s eyes bulged from their heads in hunger, their pets starving on empty bellies until their heads fell off. It is in this very sad, sad village of Himelforth that our story begins.
On the south end of town was the old cat dog stand, where they had sold cat dogs to cat dog enthusiasts and other passersby. Long ago, a villager had shown up with two cats; a male and a female. The village rejoiced as the famine had made them ravenous. But the villager, now known as Himelforth Cat-seed, persuaded the locals to breed the cats, to see if they could make more cats so that more people could eat. They all tightened their belts a little longer and waited patiently as they bred their cats into a harvest. Every now and again, they sampled their product along the way, celebrating a Birthday or a Cuticle Thursday, until the cat farm was finally bustling with yowls and howls. The yowls made mouths water as they passed by and brought about the hopes of a better tomorrow.
It was then they had the idea to see if they could sell the cats, so they could buy better food. But no one passing through Himelforth cared much about eating just plain cat meat, so something had to be done to make their crop more appealing. Thus, the cat dog stand was erected. The villagers had thought this was their ticket to local business revitalization. They had hoped to entice travelers on their way through the hamlet, putting heads in beds and helping the local economy boom.
The locals had spent weeks debating what to call their new product. Some argued for "hot cats" because there was no dog in the meat they were serving, and they were afraid it might confuse people with allergies. Others cried that the title should obviously be "Himel-franks." The whole town argued for weeks until threats of violence finally brought in the mediation of the village council, who voted in their wisdom that the city’s new product be called "cat dogs" as that was the name that would best evoke tubular meat betwixt their famous wedged bread buns.
The cat dog stand flourished, at least initially (it gained an unprecedented twelve Himels rating on Himelforth Eats), and life had been good for a little while, unlike life in other hamlets in other parts of Himelforth.
The people of Himelforth began to dream of more than cat dogs and thought of what their tiny town could really become. A town hall was immediately called to begin discussing the future of the hamlet. Himelforth Rut-rounder was tasked with placing permanent grooves in the road for wagons, while Himelforth Stick-poker would poke holes along the roadside with his stick for saplings to be planted. A real sidewalk would be constructed, and Himelforth Hole-digger would bury the power lines underground to enhance the general downtown aesthetic while also allowing for hand-laid cables to each hut, just in case they ever figured out what they were for.
They had even planned for the installation of the world’s largest cat-pelt bear statue at the northern city entrance. After that announcement, the downtown planning committee lobbied heavily for the cat dog stand to be relocated to the northern entrance as well so that it would be the first thing most travelers would see next to the public art. Energy and excitement coursed through the village. All of this city-scaping would surely revitalize the town and really make Himelforth a spot on the map, a real destination point!
But all this planning would be for naught and was soon to be abandoned. In just one fateful night, Spencer the Catbarian from the wild north clawed his way into town and set the livestock free. He had slain Himelforth Cat-seed with his bare paws and took his lucrative start-up ideas with him. The night the cat farm was destroyed cast Himelforth back into just another famished rural hamlet like all the others. It all amounted to nothing more than a failed business venture, one the village suffered for so greatly that people now pass through Himelforth as quickly as possible.
But that was all long since passed, and the famine had only gotten worse for all of Puzantium.
Himelforth Hammer-smasher, the blacksmith, sat at his post just off the dirty cobblestone road, listening to the coughing of the sick and the children begging their mothers for food that none had. He spat into the mud as he worked on shoeing a large cream-colored pony, carefully tying one lace at a time.
Satisfied with how the red sneakers were looking on the fuzzy steed, the blacksmith took a moment to rest his aching back. His wife sat next to him on the porch, furiously knitting a tea cozy. The smith was about to ask his wife why she was so intent on knitting a tea cozy when no one in the village could afford a teapot when a strange tune caught his attention.
“Dun dun, dun dun!”
“What’s that noise?” The wife looked up from her knitting, startled and confused.
“I dunno…” the smith peered down the road and saw a pair of strange figures moving towards them. The singing grew louder as the visitors came closer into view. Villagers flocked about the little procession, cheering as they threw their hands into the air. He could just start to make out the little figure leading up the front.
“...looks like some sort ‘a... bowl-cut moron.”
“Yeah, a bowl-cut moron singing in front of…some kinda dog? Look there, he’s walkin’ on his hind legs and wearin’ clothes!”
It was not unusual for dogs to walk on their hind legs or to wear clothes, but the people of Himelforth were backwards and ignorant of anything that wasn’t a Himelforth.
The stunned pair left their perch and made their way into the streets to join the others.
“He’s Riiiiiley! King of the Rileys!”
A short child-like creature with a massive bowl cut and bottlecap glasses skipped awkwardly through the village, clapping at the locals in an off-beat while she sang.
“Queen of the Piiiiiileys!”
Dressed in stretchy purple stirrup pants and a coarse yellow turtleneck sweater, the little girl heralded in a figure behind her as she sang, “And makers of food, dun dun, dun dun, yes makers of food, dun dun, dun DUN!”
A shaggy black dog walked upright behind her, clothed in purple flowing robes with a silky ermine cape fastened around his neck and a velvet jeweled crown perched between his ears. The dog gestured with his paws as he passed through the village, tossing loaves of bread into the crowds now forming around the unusual pair.
“And makers of food, dun dun, dun dun, yes makers of food, dun dun, dun DUN!”
As the song continued, the bowl-cut moron gestured wildly for the crowd to join in. The simple words and limited verse were easy to remember, and before long, the entire village rang with the "King of the Rileys."
The girl and dog finished their procession as they reached the other end of town. The last of the bread was thrown, and the lyrics faded away. The starving villagers found that they became round again, and their heads became more solid. The fields burst into golden flowers and thick sheets of wheat.
“It’s a miracle!” someone shouted.
“All hail Riley, King of the Rileys!” voices picked up in chant.
As quickly as he had appeared, Riley and his silken robes vanished, leaving behind a healthy village and a bespectacled moron rocking back and forth on her heels.
“Oh man, my lips are all cracky. Anyone got some chapstick?”
As you can imagine, the people of Himelforth did their utmost best to milk the little girl for as much food as she possibly had. To her credit, she turned over a couple of used bandages, a pokey pin, and a leaf, which she thought had a somewhat funny face on it. The people of Himelforth weren’t buying it, though. Their peasant superstitions brought with them peasant assumptions, and if someone was standing next to someone who was magic, then surely they were as well.
Himelforth Stick-poker was elected from the gathered mass to elicit more bread from the little girl. They hoped his proficiency with previously mentioned hole poking would convince the child to do more bread magic. Though his pokes only elicited several,
“Oh, oh woah!” and a few,
Day turned to night and the village townsfolk now completely encircled the bowl-cut moron. Chomping on their fresh bread, they waited patiently for the child to produce more, as now Himelforth Rug-rounder (who was in charge of rounding the village's rugs) attempted to bribe the little girl with his newest creation.
While deeply impressed and oddly fascinated with the squidgy patterns, the bowl-cut moron still could not produce the bread they desired, and when reminded that they could now make their own bread from their newly rejuvenated fields, the crowd screamed in protest.
They were far too weak to do the necessary harvesting, as they had only just become round again, and their children still needed minding with their now unusually solid heads. Also, none could remember how to actually make the bread the hamlet had once been famous for, as Himelforth Cat-seed had previously been Himelforth Recipe-card-minder, and unfortunately, his secrets had died with him.
It took the cool-headed and calm demeanor of Himelforth Goat-tugger to calm the ravenous crowd down and convince them that the magic did not come from the girl but from the bi-pedal bear-goat, which they had seen walking through the street. To which Himelforth Hammer-smasher then reminded them, was not a thing and clarified the taxonomy of the now identifiable dog. (Told you they were backwards).
Regardless of whether or not the creature was a dog, or still more likely a walking bear-goat—of which Himelforth Goat-tugger was still slightly convinced—they eventually decided they should pay a visit to Himelforth Monk-guy. One might think their reasoning for this had to do with the fact that Monk-guy, a monk, knew more than most about the workings of magic and miracles and possibly how to bring back the bread. Really, though, it came down to the simple realization that the child and Monk-guy shared the same bowl cut style haircut and therefore must know something about the other. (Oh, and also how to bring back the bread.)
Himelforth Monk-guy had, in his youth, studied at the Abbey of Geriapolis. There he had learned the divine secrets of the All-God, known as Riley, and the many divine works of his followers. He had returned to his village of Himelforth eager to share what he had learned and to convince the people that there was, in fact, a deity not named Himelforth.
The people had largely ignored him and had been very much peeved when his cookie Tuesday sermons had, in fact, turned out to be just a sermon, with no cookies, owing to the fact that there was a famine to contend with. His proselytization had become so wearisome and so taxing on the people of Himelforth that they had relocated his family hut to the outskirts of the village so that he was now neighbors with the much-despised Hinkelfister who, by virtue of a rogue uncle, was in fact not a Himelforth.
The villagers were forced to draw straws between them to see who would be unlucky enough to have to share their bread with Himelforth Monk-guy, as he had been left alone in his hut for far too long and was in need of a bit of a snack (which is not how you should treat elderly ostracized monks, no matter how annoying they are).
When the monk awoke, he was greeted with a, “Hello Mr. Monk!” from a curious bowl-cut and bespectacled child, handing him the bread roll Himelforth Stone-picker had lost. While likely for anyone else an alarming scene to have a strange child, not your own greeting you from a deep sleep, Himelforth Monk-guy instead did not see a simple child (simple as in ordinary, I’m not trying to demean anyone), but a vision of divinity. Where others saw a bowl cut, Himelforth Monk-guy saw a radiant crown. Its glow permeated the simple hut which he had called home for many years.
“You should probably eat something, you don’t look thso good,” the child said in a lisp that was entirely her own, as she poked the roll closer for Monk-guy to take.
Still in awe of the child’s radiance, the old man took the offered bun but stopped short of biting into it. Instead, his eyes widened as he inspected the seeds married into the bread.
“A flaxen bun!” he exclaimed through weathered lips and horse lungs. (…did I misspell it, or is he part horse, who knows?).
“Yeah, I was hopin’ the dog had sourdough,” a Himelforth replied from the crowded hut.
“Riley’s return…a flaxen bun,” the old monk whispered as he glanced back at the child, her head still radiating a golden aura.
“A golden crown, the cresting sun,” he continued.
Tearing his gaze away from the awe-inspiring crown of the bowl cut before him, he gasped as he noticed that the child was clothed in a tattered mustard yellow sweater with a floppy turtleneck.
“A turtle’s neck, weathered…” Himelforth Monk-guy let out a little chuckle as he noted how comically large the sweater looked on the little girl's body, “and fun!”
He shook his head in amazement as he continued to take in the scene. Her violet pants sharply contrasted against the gold and yellow, drawing his eyes to notice that they were strangely cupped around her feet like a horse’s stirrups.
“Stirruped in purple will ride the Harolded one…” The monk collapsed at the girl’s feet, overwhelmed at her very presence. Tears poured from his eyes as an overwhelming sense of joy enveloped him. All his years of hardship, all the rejection and rebukes, the snubs from his fellow Himelforths, his exclusion from Himelforthing at the community center, all had led him here to witness this vision and be part of one of Riley’s great miracles.
“Uh, Mr. Monk? Mr. Monk? It’sth okay. Here, you can have this leaf I found. Sthee? He has a funny face.” The girl let out a short but guttural chortle upon seeing the face again.
Himelforth Monk-guy wiped the tears from his eyes to look up at the child and was shocked to see himself staring back through the obscenely thick lenses of her glasses.
“As through a mirror, see yourself and know they have come!”