Rain Like Diamonds
by Wendy Nikel
The queen hoarded the barrels of seed, keeping them locked within her coffers among the diamonds and gold and strings of perfect pearls, remnants of the former days of prosperity and excess. The seeds would receive neither sun nor water nor nutrients from the soil until unlocked by the shining key strung around her neck. Day after day, she sat upon her throne, and the villagers lined up before her, pleading. It was only her loyal guards, with their sharp swords glimmering in her peripheral, who kept the villagers from severing her neck to get at that key.
"Have mercy!" They cried as though their tears might change her mind.
"Our children need nourishment!" They shouted as if she, too, hadn't been watching her own son grow thin and wan and dull.
"Just one barrel! One barrel will keep us alive for a few days longer!"
She held her chin high, her eyes downcast and sorrowful. "I cannot."
Thought it broke her heart, she spoke the truth. It was true, the meager meal would sustain them for a day or two. But that would be one less barrel to plant when the famine ended, when those who remained stood a chance.
Nothing had grown for many seasons, till all the people's cupboards, barns, and storehouses and cellars were empty. All that remained within them were empty jars, dust-lined shelves, and--if one breathed in deeply--the haunting memory of the scent of food.
Yet even if the queen had thrown the seeds to those standing beneath her balcony, had given the seeds to the kingdom's best farmers, it was futile. Nothing would grow, and their hunger would not be satiated. Nothing would grow until the dragon-scorched earth was healed.
A messenger burst into the throne room. His gait, once like a thoroughbred's, was now the spindly stumble of one whose legs were too thin, whose ankles too prone to turn.
"My queen! The sorceress has spoken!"
The queen rose from her throne, for this news was long awaited. Since first the crops refused to grow, the sorceress had been locked in her tower, spending countless hours staring into her scrying pools and crystal balls, searching for an answer.
"Well? What is it?" the queen demanded.
"You must see her, in her tower."
The queen climbed the spiraling stairs to the castle's dreary north tower. Though winded, she pressed on, for the task of climbing a staircase was so small compared with what her people had already suffered.
"Sorceress!" she called as she entered the chamber. "Sorceress! What am I to do?"