Times were harsh in the old days of Meridell. Neopians had to eat what was grown on their property, or trade the fruits (or vegetables) of their labor for something else. Many were poor. Many more were starving. Some, like those our story centers around, got by with a sorry little shack, the clothes on their back and a meager bundle of carrots while a neighbor flourished on the next plot of land over.
Now it just so happens that a young blue Wocky and his mother lived next to the wealthiest farmer in Meri Acres. Every day the young Wocky gazed at the fence that separated his tiny patch of carrots from rows upon rows of corn, peas and other crunchy, sweet or just downright tasty vegetables that would make a healthy soup for supper. Their tiny crop was nourished by a stream, a ten minute walk away. The only thing to carry water in was a heavy, leaky bucket that was determined to lose half of its contents between the stream and the parched earth where the carrots grew.
“You’re looking awful thin, son.”
The young Wocky looked up to see his neighbor, a green Gelert, leaning against the fence that divided their lands.
“Though that’s a mighty fine patch of carrots you have growing there.”
The young Wocky glanced dubiously down at the patch of wilting carrot tops sticking out of the dry earth and the small nubs of orange that indicated the wrinkled, stunted carrots desperately trying to wrangle some sort of nourishment out of the parched earth.
“Why, I’ll just bet those carrots would taste just delicious in a soup,” the farmer continued, a knowing twinkle in his eyes, “but you could use a few more things in it, I think.”
The young Wocky just sighed, waiting for a nasty jibe or joke at his expense.
“Hmmm...” The farmer rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I’ll tell you what... My farm takes a lot of work and effort to run. So I can’t just give away some of my crop. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll make you a trade. If you could find something that you work hard on and put a lot of effort into, I’ll trade you a sack full of vegetables for it.”
The young Wocky’s eyes lit up and flicked to the corn field briefly, then nodded eagerly.
That evening, our little hero spent all of his free time working diligently on a block of wood with a carving knife. If there was one thing he was good at, it was carving. But up until now, his little creatures weren’t very valuable.
Soon enough, the next afternoon, the young Wocky held up his newest creation with pride. It was a carved Doglefox in exquisite detail. It was crouched in a “play bow;” its front paws stretched out before it, little bottom up in the air and tail curved over its back as though caught in mid-wag. A happy smile had found its home across the small wooden muzzle and little eyes almost gleamed with hopeful playfulness.
“That’s a mighty fine little petpet there, son, and you’ve definitely outdone yerself in skill,” the farmer said, gently inspecting the detail in the ears and build. “But I’m afraid I’ve never been very fond of Doglefoxes. Too hyper.”
The young Wocky’s heart sank.
“Tell yer what, son, come back tomorrow with a Gallion. But since you put all that time and effort into this little fellow here, I’ll let you take the corn home tonight. Just make sure you come back with that Gallion, hear?” The farmer handed the little Doglefox back as well as a sack laden with several ripe ears of corn.
“Y-yes sir,” the Wocky managed to breathe, awed by the weight of the sack; just by feel alone each ear of corn had to be bigger around than his arm!
The Wocky’s Mum was quite startled to see her son stagger through the door to their shack with his treasure. At first she was terrified, berating her son for stealing from the neighbor’s fields. When he told her the story, she gave him a suspicious frown but nodded. “Well then, you’d best get to work on carving that critter!” she told him firmly. “No son of mine is going to steal from an influential Farmer like our neighbor!” She shucked some of the corn and prepared it with the carrots for supper, saving an ear of corn to be dried and planted. With luck, the corn would grow and supplement them when it grew big enough.
The young Wocky worked hard all evening, carving away with infinite care on his next block of wood, and the next day offered the carved creature up with a pounding heart.
The farmer inspected it with a critical eye, observing the little creature’s proud stance and full mane that almost seemed to be blowing in a nonexistent wind. Even the horns and dainty paws were done with great attention to detail.
“I must say I’m impressed, son,” the Gelert said with a pleased smile, “Looks like it could spring to life any second. But I’m afraid I’ve lost interest in Gallions. Too nippy. But here.” He handed over a bag of peas, still in their pods. “You’ve put a lot of effort into that little figure. It’s worth the vegetables. Tell you what, bring me a Vullard tomorrow.”
Days passed, and each day it was the same. The farmer would request a new figure in exchange, and each day he would change his mind about it, give it back and offer up a bag bulging with some sort of vegetable, extracting a promise for a new creature for the next day.
Time passed, as it always does, and the dilapidated farm slowly grew as the Wocky’s mum planted some of the vegetables that the young Wocky traded for. By the next fall, the young Wocky had quite a collection of carved critters; a Doglefox, a Vullard, a Gallion, a Puppyblew, a Greeble, a Mortog... the list went on.
As war swept through Meridell... twice... the young Wocky was drawn off to fight to protect his land and for a time it seemed as though his little trade project was forgotten. When he came home, the young Wocky wasn’t such a youngster anymore but a strapping adult with a worldly-wise look about him.
As he sauntered home after the second war he paused to gaze from his home, now a sturdy farmhouse with healthy fields, to his neighbor’s. As his gaze flitted to the slightly worn spot on the fence where the farmer liked to lean whenever they talked, a flash of memory made him gasp.
His jaw set in determination; he darted into the barn and scooped up the little figurines, which were right where he had left them when he had left for war. He put each little creature in his backpack and sauntered up the lane to his neighbor’s home.
Almost shyly, he knocked on the door.
He had to stifle a gasp when the stooped figure creakily answered the door. The farmer had changed in the years since he’d left. Now an elderly fellow, much of his fur and his beard were shock white by age and his back bowed by his hard work in the fields.
“Well, hello there, what can I do for you?” There was no glimmer of recognition in the old fellow’s eyes and the Wocky suspected that he didn’t look much like the boy who had left for war.
Taking advantage of the offer as an idea sprang into his mind, the Wocky doffed his hat politely. “Forgive me sir, I’m on my way home from the battlefields and was just wondering if you could spare some water for a drink before I hit the roads again.”
“Why certainly, son.” The farmer gave our hero a smile and opened the door to let him come in. “I’ve got some hot apple cider warming on my stove if you’d like that.”
“That would be wonderful.” The Wocky joined his Gelert neighbor in the front room.
As soon as the farmer was out of sight in the kitchen, he carefully unzipped his backpack and began pulling the small figurines out one by one, keeping up the conversation with stories from the front lines and some of the hilarious pranks he and his fellow soldiers would pull on one another.
Then he joined the farmer in the kitchen for a steaming mug of cider, laughing hysterically like old friends, “...and would you believe someone donated to our whole battalion nothing but boxes and boxes of Baked Beans? Haha! Let me tell you, the ‘winds of war’ had a whole new meaning that day when we marched. I swear not a single Darigan soldier could bear to get close to any of us for two whole days.”
They talked for hours, before the young Wocky finally had to excuse himself, saying he needed to go home. “Thank you for the cider, sir,” the Wocky said with a warm smile.
“Ahh, thank you for the company, son. It’s been a lonely few years ever since... well... since a few years ago. You’ve made an old man happy.”
“Not a problem, sir,” the Wocky gave the old Gelert a smart salute and started off on the road again, whistling a jaunty tune.
The old farmer smiled as he eased his front door shut, chuckling as he reviewed his conversation with the young soldier. As he turned around, he felt a little twinge that told him something was different about his front room. Frowning, he looked around again and felt his heart swell with emotion. Perched on the windowsills, chairs and couches was a small army of oddly familiar figurines.
And there on the coffee table, a pair of bright eyes stared back at him, a happy smile plastered on its wooden muzzle, its little bottom up in the air with the tail frozen in mid wag... a little, skillfully carved Doglefox.