Taint

“Papa!” exclaimed the youngest of Haymich’s sons.

“Ivan!” waved Nadia.

They were almost to the farm when the panicked youth spotted them from the barn. Without wasting a single moment, he rushed over, worry in his eyes. Ivan was a muscular young man with blonde hair, blue eyes and innocence of a toddler. “Thank you for bringing him back!”

“Ivan, what’s wrong with him?” she asked as Iver handed the rope to the boy.

“I don’t know,” Ivan said, his voice cracking. “Papa’s condition has been deteriorating since I got here, but he never wondered off before.”

“Do you have the grain?” Iver asked.

“Yeah,” Ivan answered as he embraced his father. “In the barn.”

“I’ll go start loading,” Iver smiled. “You take care of your father.”

“Thanks again,” Ivan smiled nervously. “He probably just needs rest.

Iver smiled and took Daisy by the reins. They moved toward the barn. Haymich one of the authorities on farming in the local area. Production of high-quality grain was his forte and he never disappointed. Unfortunately, now, it’d be impossible to tell. Tall weeds invaded the plowed dirt which appeared to have completely dried. The entire place stank of negligence and disorder.

Nadia waited for Ivan and his father to disappear into their house before casually following them inside. She moved quietly through the house, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Blue vomit likely meant poison, but she didn’t rule out the slight possibility that Haymich contracted some sort of unheard-of disease.

The kitchen was devoid of food. There wasn’t even a loose crumb on the table. Nadia looked through the cabinets and still found nothing eatable. She worked her way to the stairs that lead into the cellar. Without hesitation, she followed them down. Cold stones lined the walls of a small room. Droplets of condensation dripped onto the floor while flickering light of a singular torch brought the space out of the darkness.

A heavy, steel door at the opposite end of the cellar separated two giant chests. Nadia tried to investigate but found masterwork locks barring her way. After a sigh of disappointment, she retreated to the first floor and back outside.

Iver was in the barn with the grain looking very unhappy. He gave her a quizzical glance, to which she just shrugged and shook her head. “The grain is damp,” he complained. “And it stinks.”

“Salvageable?”

“I don’t know, but we shouldn’t pay for it.”

“Haymich is sick. It’s a wonder he got the entire order together.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with what I’m saying. The money would be better spent on less grain that’s in better shape. We shouldn’t accept this.”

“Where are you going to go? Kivo?”

“Yes, Kivo. I am sure there are farmers there peddling their overstock.”

“Haymich needs our money to survive as much as we need his grain. We can’t just break ties.”

“This is not up to us to decide. Let Vor make the call.”

“Make the call on what?” Ivan asked from the doorway.

“The grain looks spoiled Ivan,” Iver said blatantly. “We will let Vor decide if we will accept this shipment.”

“What do you mean spoiled? We harvested it a few days ago!”

Iver pointed to the sack.

The boy inspected the shipment and cursed loudly.

“So, you agree?”

“Yes. This is unsalvageable. I don’t know how… I don’t know what could have done this. I’m sorry!”

“How’s your father?” Nadia changed the subject.

“Not well. He vomited again. I don’t know what’s going on. Feels like this entire week has been a nightmare.” Ivan shook his head and looked like he was about to cry. “Our food spoiled, and I was really counting on this grain sale so that I could go get more. We have nothing left.”

“Ivan, is it possible that someone could have poisoned the land?”

“Poisoned… the land? But… I mean… When I got back from Kivo to help with the harvest father wasn’t feeling well. All his food had had fungus on it and he looked like he hasn’t eaten in weeks. He was still talking then… I used the last of my rations to keep us afloat. It wasn’t much and his condition was getting worse. A few days ago, he stopped eating and yesterday the vomiting began. You think someone…”

“I don’t know,” Nadia sighed. “Did your father have any enemies?  Someone whom he refused to do orders for maybe?”

“No idea,” Ivan said.

“Ivan, go get your father,” Iver interrupted. “You will come with us.”

“I can’t leave the farm unprotected.”

“Your farm is dead. You have no crops and no stock. There is nothing but the house itself and it seems that it is not very livable right now. Come with us and maybe we can find help for your father.”

“Maybe?” Ivan whimpered, his massive shoulders sinking.

“If the poison has been coursing through his veins for a week…” Iver shrugged. “I’m not a leech.”

Ivan nodded. Without any more words, he grabbed an empty sack off the wall and left.

“We have to burn the grain,” Iver said when Ivan was out of earshot.

“Why?”

“People will come here. They will see free grain and grab it. Poison might spread.”

Nadia looked at Iver, feeling very impressed with the decisions he was making. “We should bring some home with us to show Vor.”

“You don’t think he’d trust us?”

“I’m afraid the rest of the village won’t. When you mess with people’s winter supplies, things can get violent.”

Iver nodded.

Nadia packed a few seeds into an empty satchel while Iver prepared the rest of the grain outside. Ivan got back just in time to see Nadia light the fire. His father stood beside him, dressed but still on the leash.

“Let’s move out,” Iver waved and Nadia slapped the horse into motion.