Turner the turnip-whisperer awoke that morning to a wonderful view of his turnip farm--made wonderful due to the sight of a naked nymph sitting amongst the turnips, deep in conversation with them. Now he wasn’t particularly nervous about what the turnips might say to the nymph, for he had always tended to their needs, even the ridiculous ones like repainting his barn purple, but rather, what he might say to a woman, especially one without clothes on. Turnip gardening left him little time to spend in the local village, getting to know tavern wenches and the such.
So he stalled inside, taking his sweet time to brew some turnip tea. But the turnips, the impatient roots, rustled their stalks as loudly as they could--and if they kept that up, they just might break a stem or two!
He poked his head out the door to yell at them to quit it, and found himself swallowing the words. The nymph was waving for him to come outside.
What did she want with him? This had better not be the beginning of another nymph uprising, because he was sick of the lumberjacks’ complaining. How we supposed to cut trees when a little woman tries to gouge our eyes out? Numbskulls like that should pay more attention to whose trees they’re cutting down; it’d be like him trying to plant turnips on another farmer’s land. Although he had received complaints of his turnips finding their way into someone’s rose garden or orchard.
The nymph was still waving, wasn’t she? And he probably looked like an outright fool standing there with his head out the door. Very well, he’d see to her and treat her like any other merchant . . . a very, very attractive merchant.
The turnips were all giddy as he stepped outside, stirring in their little plots. The nymph patted one on the leaves, then walked over to him, smiling. He avoided her small bouncing breasts, choosing to focus on a few recently uprooted turnips that were harassing the carrots; they didn’t like that he had planted carrots, but as he explained, if he was to keep his mules happy, he would have to feed them carrots. The turnips dismissed this as picky eating, and suggested he buy mules that did enjoy turnips.
“Uh, so...hello?” he said to the nymph, wringing his hands. A nearby turnip snapped him in the heel with its taproot--ow!--forcing him to see eye-to-eye with the nymph.
“You’re the turnip-whisperer, yes?” She had great-big forest green eyes, irises neatly blending into the pupils. Her skin was the color of oak, her hair a dark shade of sand.
“Yes, I’m Turner. Pleased to meet you.” He bowed because this seemed like the proper thing to do with a lady . . . and kept him from staring at her breasts.
She clapped her hands together. “I’m so glad. I’ve heard so much about you, Turner.”
He stood straight. “Really? You didn’t perhaps hear anything about me from a bard, did you?”
“No, the plants. Your turnips passed word along the trees of your excellent care.”
Well at least someone talked of his achievements.
“I’m Nym, and I seek your aid.”
“Oh?” A lady asking him for help? He must be dreaming!
“Oh yes. You see, the creeping swamp has, well, crept up on the forest that my sister and I protect. It’s causing a lot of root rot, as you can imagine.”
He winced at the thought. “Yeah, that can be nasty, but I think I’ve got something for ya.”
Her eyes lit up, making him light up. “Oh, I knew you would.”
He walked her over to the barn, where several bags of different mulches were piled up.
“You probably want something sand based for good drainage. Throw in some pine chips for absorption, and let’s see...” He hauled some bags over to get a better look at his selection. Nym stood close by, maybe too close, but he wasn’t about to complain.
He looked to see trader Joe on the other side of the field. Maybe it was the chivalrous part of him, or maybe it was because he knew Joe to be a man-whore, but he leapt to his feet and blocked the naked Nym from the trader’s view.
“Who’s that behind ya?” asked Joe, trying to see around him.
He moved with Joe’s line of sight. “Oh, just a friend come to visit. She’s quite shy. What can I do for you, Joe?”
“Would like a full cart of your largest turnips for Eatenberg marketplace next week. Actually...” The trader rubbed his bushy mustache, probably calculating things to his advantage. “Make that two carts.”
“They sell that well, huh?”
“At the prices I sell them for, sure!”
“Then twenty-percent down payment, sixty-percent of profits.”
“Sixty! That’s a bit high.”
“Well this Boilempolis trader was offering sixty-five, but since we’ve been doing business for so long...” Lies, but Joe wasn’t the only one who could haggle.
Brows furrowed, Joe switched from rubbing his hairy ‘stache to his even hairier chin.
Nym got on her tip-toes and whispered into his ear, “Is something the matter?”
He whispered back. “Just a sec.” Then to Joe, “Perhaps we can continue this another time. Give you some time to think it over.”
“I’ll not lose business to someone from Boilempolis,” Joe grumbled. “I’ll come by next week, have it ready.”
“You’ve got it.”
The turnips shifted in their soil, excited for the trip.
After Joe left, Turner faced Nym again. “I apologize. It’s just, you know, the clothes...”
She cocked her head to the side like an adorable kitten. “I need clothes?”
“Well...” He suddenly thought of the old prudes always carrying their holy books--which were more for symbol status than actual reading--always chastising, always throwing stones. He blamed the abundance of rocks laying around that had allowed the habit to start.
“Maybe it’s just best if I get you a dress and knickers for the time being,” he said. “Feel free to look around, maybe check out my specialty fertilizer.” He indicated to one bag.
Nym bent over, took a whiff. “Smells like dead meat.”
“Because it is.”
Shopping was an unideal chore since it meant time spent in the village, and this village had one too many idiots for his liking. Like for example: the big tall goon with the broad shoulders, shiny long hair, and teeth as bright as the sun. The guy must’ve been new, because he was going from shop to shop, asking about maidens and some such. As inexperienced as he was, even Turner knew where the “maidens” were at.
“Good sir,” said pretty broad shoulders, addressing Turner while he was in the middle of estimating Nym’s waist size. Turner held one dress after another, pretending it was just the wind he heard.
Pretty broad shoulders cleared his throat and spoke a little more loudly, “I said--”
He turned to face the annoyance, dress still in his hands. “Yeah, all right, what?”
Pretty broad shoulders put on a dashing smile, causing light to bounce off and into Turner’s face.
“Ah! Watch where you point that,” he said, shading his eyes.
“Good sir, I am a knight in search of any maidens that need rescuing.”
“Well you won’t find any here,” he said, blinking back floating spots.
“Surely there are some.” The knight’s smile dimmed, much to Turner’s relief.
“Nope.” He turned back to the dresses, but pretty damn annoying grabbed his shoulder.
“Are you certain? Not even a maiden who needs a teeny weeny favor?”
“No! Now go.”
“Then what’s this, you buying dresses?”
“For a friend.”
“A maiden friend?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it does!” The knight struck a pose, head held high, gauntlet resting on his breast. “Where ever there is a maiden in stress, a knight should be there to relieve her.”
“...Right, well...I don’t think there’s much you can do unless you’re an expert in swamp farming.”
“A little plowing of her fields, eh?” The knight’s smile filled with devilish excitement. “Pollinating her flowers. Picking her cherries. Nose deep in her garden beds.”
“We’re not talking about gardening, are we?”
“Perhaps if you introduced me this maiden, I could better explain.” The knight placed a hand on his shoulder as if they were old chums. Turner flicked it off.
“Isn’t there a dragon somewhere you have to slay?”
“Afraid it’s not dragon season. There’s regulations on such things, to keep their numbers from dropping too low.”
The tailor of the shop, adorned with the traditional measuring tape around the neck, was giving them the buy something or get out! look. And Turner had to agree, as his own patience was drying out faster than a turnip in the desert. Time to think of something...
“Oh look!” Turner pointed past pretty broad shoulders. “A maiden!”
The knight spun around. “Where?”
Turner tossed down some coin and made a run for it, dress clutched between his hands. The duped knight tried to follow him, but he ducked into a stable, his wiry frame able to squeeze between the wide asses, and slip out the other side through a few loose boards that had been there since last summer. He coughed out the donkey dung that had invaded his lungs, pounding on his chest several times. Someone should talk to that stable boy about cleaning the place up once in a while.
No knight in sight, but he didn’t expect much from a lunkhead like that; they only knew how to swing swords and look gallant on their horses. Maidens, pffft.
He hitched a ride on a fellow farmer’s cart, back up the hill to his farm and to the lovely Nym. He just hoped she wouldn’t mind a few stains on the dress.
He loaded up the cart with bags of different kinds of fertilizer, sand, and wood chips. There was a squeak after he plopped down a particularly heavy bag, followed by a taproot lashing out.
“Hey now!” He dodged just out of the root’s reach. “We’re not headed for Eatenberg yet. Now get out.”
Some of the turnips grumbled as they dragged themselves out by their taproots, while the stubborn ones remained. Suit themselves if they wanted to go for a ride, as long as they behaved.
Nym finalized her selection and brought some bags over, not caring if dirt was spilling down the front of her awkwardly worn dress. At least now he could focus on her without fear of his gaze drifting downward.
“You think all this will do?” she asked.
“If not, we’ll make a second trip.” Though it was probably best if Nym remained in her forest, where she could be freely naked, and him a lot less distracted.
He hitched up the mules and they were off, down the dirt road that wound around the hill. Nym sat next to him, playing with a little turnip in her lap.
“They seem to really like you,” he said, knowing full and well that it was hard to win the favor of turnips.
“They’re quite sweet once you get to know them.” She stroked the turnip and its leaves shuddered with pleasure. “Reminds me of when the forest trees were saplings... Now they’re grown up grumps.”
“Can’t say I’ve had too many conversations with trees.”
“The winters harden them too much. I’ve often wondered if I should move to a tropical place where the trees are always lush and full of life.”
“Yeah, but the insects...”
“My sister says the same, and the rain. But it’s a fantasy of mine, I suppose.” She shrugged.
“Sister you say?” called a familiar voice.
Turner looked over his shoulder to find the knight on his white steed, and as to be expected, he appeared gallant, hair waving in the wind as he rode up to them in the cart. Even the horse seemed to glow like its rider, all dashing and what not.
He half-expected for Nym to swoon at the sight of the knight, but she was much more interested in the turnip’s interpretive dance moves.
“Go away,” he said to the knight and shook the reins, picking up the pace. The white steed matched them with ease.
“I’ll forgive your earlier offense of misleading me. The local villagers told me you’re an ‘off’ one.”
“Well good,” he grunted. He’d rather be ‘off’ than a nose-picking dolt that was unaware of the existence of soap.
“Fair maiden,” the knight went on, “what is your name, and can I be of assistance?”
After a few moments, and the knight’s obsessive staring, Nym asked him quietly, “Is he addressing me?”
“Afraid so. He’s clearly out of his gourd.”
The turnip snickered and moved its stalk and leaves in a similar fashion to the knight’s waving hair. Both Nym and him laughed, and had to agree it was an accurate impression.
“Hmm, seems I’m not getting through,” the knight thought out loud. “Peasant, perhaps you--”
Turner gripped the reins, hard. “Excuse me? I am a farmer, a hardworking man. Half the countryside is well fed thanks to me, and that includes beefy knights like yourself.”
“Beefy!” The knight straightened up in his saddle. “Are you implying that I am like a cow?”
“You certainly have the brains of one.”
“That’s it! I will not be spoken to like that by a peasant.”
As the knight was drawing his sword, Turner handed the reins over to Nym. “Just steer straight,” he told her, and grabbed a few turnips from the cart. He launched the turnips at the knight’s head; they made weeeee! sounds as they whizzed through the air and boinked the knight’s thick noggin.
The knight fell off, his armor clanking against the ground, though one foot was caught in the stirrup, and the horse hadn’t realized it had lost its rider. The knight screamed in an unmanly manner for his horse to stop, which had the opposite effect, as it trotted past and ahead.
“Haha!” He thumped his chest with a turnip. That’ll teach the arrogant arse to call him a peasant.
Nym gasped. “Will those turnips be all right?”
“Of course. They’re hardy guys, and they know the way home.”
The forest was much more dense and dark than he would’ve thought. The dirt road had become rocks and roots, forcing him to abandon the cart and pile the bags on the mules’ backs. The turnips insisted on coming, but he told them to stay put if they didn’t want to get lost. He wasn’t even sure if he would make it out. Never before had he seen so many trees packed together, their roots overlapping each other like the hands of long-time lovers. Nym took his hand and led him onward. Hopefully his sweaty palms weren’t bothering her.
“The swamp has crept into the heart of the forest, and it truly reeks.”
She wasn’t kidding; the further they went, the green freshness was being saturated with rotten vegetation, and something like a witch’s stew of newt eyes three days old. He inhaled through his mouth, but the very air was intent on making him suffer, with lungs burning and throat constricted.
“Are you all right?” she asked, patting him on the back as he hacked out a piece of his lung.
“I’m very porous.”
She left his side to look around a large oak, then poked her head between other trees, calling: “Cym! I’ve brought the turnip-whisperer, come help us dry out this swamp.” When no reply, she asked the trees where her sister was, but they all shrugged their branches.
“Hmm, where did she run off to?” Nym mumbled to herself as she returned to him.
He had recovered enough to start tearing into the bags of dirt. “Why don’t we start without her. Then we’ll be done before nightfall.” Even with Nym, he couldn’t imagine navigating this forest by night.
They dumped the bags of sand in first, and the swamp emitted hundreds of little shrieks through its gaseous bubbles, pushing the rough grains to the surface.
“Eck! Quicksand,” he said. “Watch out for that, Nym. When we add the woods chips, that should fix it.”
Nym appeared worried. “It’s not like her to be gone for this long.”
“Do you want to search for her? I don’t mind finishing this up.”
“Leave me alone!” cried a young woman’s voice.
“That’s her! Come on.” Nym yanked him by the arm, toward the cry. He stumbled and panted, barely keeping up with her light steps. The swamp would snarl and snap whenever they came too close to its edge, and he was most grateful for the lending branch that kept him from tumbling into murky, scum-filled waters.
They came into a clearing where the swamp hadn’t crept into, and somehow he knew it wouldn’t be good.
The ever-annoying knight had not only tracked them down to this part of the forest, but also had a slightly younger version of Nym pinned to his side. Cym beat against the knight’s breastplate, but only succeeded at bruising her hands.
“What the hell are you doing?” Turner asked, followed by Nym’s “Let her go!”
The knight smiled as if keeping a girl against her will was a perfectly normal, every day thing to do. “I saw this maiden at the forest’s edge, clearly waiting for some help. And so, I’ve come to help her.”
“You’re not helping anyone!” He took a step forward. “More like antagonizing us.”
The knight’s brows furrowed in befuddlement. “Antagonizing--what?”
“You know, the opposite of heroics.”
“Now see here. A knight’s duty is to help unfortunate maidens, and when most maidens these days can help themselves, it makes my job quite difficult.”
“Ever thought about doing something else?”
“Like what?” The knight’s grip loosened on Cym, and Turner took another bold step.
“I dunno. Blacksmithing? Basket-weaving? Share hair-styling tips?” He inched forward, a little closer and he could grab her away...
“You’re suggesting I do menial labor? I think I’ll stick to maiden-saving, thank you very much.” The knight squeezed Cym closer to his side while brandishing his sword at Turner. The blade’s point came a little too close to his Adam’s apple.
That was when Nym danced forward, hand against her forehead, looking most distressed.
“Oh knight, I am in need of your help,” she said.
“You are!” The knight perked up.
“You are?” Turner frowned.
“Oh yes. Please, follow me.” She skipped back, turned on her heel, and was off back the way they’d originally come from.
He was about to follow when the knight slapped him with the broadside of his sword, knocking him flat on his ass, gasping for air. The knight looked down upon him with a deadly glare. “She needs a knight, not a peasant.”
When the knight was gone, Cym helped him up, and like with Nym, tried his best to not notice her state of nakedness.
“Thanks,” he said. “But what is your sister up to?”
Cym grinned wickedly.
Moments later, it was the knight crying out. Unlike before, Turner didn’t feel the rush of urgency and took his time making his way back to Nym. The swampy quicksand had made, well, quick work of the knight as he was already shoulder-deep. Nym helped the process along by stomping on the knight’s head.
“This works as fertilizer, right?” she asked.
He didn’t know what else to say, other than: “Close enough.”
It was late when Turner finally arrived home and flopped onto his bed. Too much running. Though sleep didn’t come quickly as he thought of Nym and her, err, features. Nudity aside, she was perhaps the first, and only, woman he got along with. Of course most of the village women couldn’t tell a turnip from a beet--the horror!
But at least he had his turnips.
Oh right. Many of them would be leaving for Eatenberg next week. Such was life as a farmer: work hard only to let go of everything you loved.
He rolled over and sighed into his pillow.
Morning shined a light in his face. Maybe for once he’d be lazy and just stay in bed. But the rustling and bump-bumps of turnips at his door wouldn’t allow for it.
“What is it, turnips?” he yawned as he got to his feet and opened the door.
And there was the wonderful sight of Nym in his field. Her dress in tatters, she was cheerily talking to a cluster of turnips surrounding her. She took notice of him and waved him over.
“Um, Nym, what are you doing here?” he asked as he approached her. For the love of root vegetables, it had better not be about another knight.
“Well I like your turnips”--the turnips nestled up against her--“And a forest only needs one nymph to watch over it. So I was wondering, since you know your craft so well, if I could stay here and learn some things.”
“I...uh, sure!” Really, could he say no?
All the turnips rocked for joy.
“And maybe I could teach you a few things as well?” She cocked her head, smiling shyly.
“That works too...um...” Better find a distraction quick, before he bursts out in sweats and blushes. One turnip at his feet volunteered itself. He picked it up and asked, “Care for some turnip tea?”
Then to the turnips, he said: “And back to your plots, the lot of you. Or I’ll give your spots to the carrots.”
Obedient, if not grumbly, they buried themselves till nothing but the stalks poked out.
Siobhan Gallagher is a wannabe zombie slayer, currently residing in the Forever City. Her fiction has appeared in several publications, including AE - The Canadian Science Fiction Review, On Spec, Abyss & Apex, the anthology Unidentified Funny Objects, and Grimdark Magazine. Occasionally, she does this weird thing called "blogging" at: defconcanwrite.blogspot.com.