Serendipity - Sunday's Farm by Lena Patten

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Sunday's Farm
by Lena Patten

When all the men were away at war, a boy was born to two women who lived on the edge of the town, by the ancient forest, at the centre of which grew

the notorious and dangerous serpent woods. The boy they named Sunday, after

the day he was born.

The first mother was practical and homely, and worried when the housework

wasn't done and when the cupboards were not completely stocked. She had

dark hair and pale skin and was tall like her son, but plain of face. She

tended the family's vegetable patch.

The second mother was worldly and adventurous. When the men had been at

home she had stood among them as an equal, yet none could win her. She had

light hair and dark skin and was small and agile and very beautiful. She

carried a short-sword at her belt and wore a wolf-skin coat, with a hood

made of the wolf's mighty head, the lifeless eyes of which Sunday felt

could penetrate into his soul. She provided the family's meat.

One day the pale-haired, dark-skinned mother took her son deep into the

forest and showed him the serpent woods, where the leaves of the trees

dangled like snakes and the sap from their bark ran with poison. She told

him how in ancient times the woods had been renowned for their ability to

bestow a fertile union upon a couple, and she had been conceived in this

very place. She also told him how the honey made from the sap of the

serpent trees was said to be the best in the world. As well as being the

finest tasting, it had the additional quality of granting visions to anyone

who drunk the mead made from it in large enough quantities.

As they sought out beehives, she told him a story of how as a girl she had

ventured to the very spot they were standing on to collect serpent tree sap

and had been attacked by a huge wolf, the last of the area's dire wolves.

She had slain it by coating her sword in the poisonous juice from the

trees. She had skinned the wolf and the coat she now wore was made from its

fur. It had seen her through many bad winter nights spent hunting in the


As he grew, Sunday took on several of his mothers' traits. He was tall like

the dark-haired mother, and handsome like the light-haired one. He combined

the domestic approach of one and the outdoors spirit of the other to

capture wild animals, boars and rabbits and ducks, and raise them and their

fodder close to home, and by the time his mothers died, Sunday's home had

developed into a small farmstead.

Women from the town came to him to buy meat and vegetables, and many

thought what a fine husband he would make for their daughters, as there

were so few men about, even though the war was long passed and the veterans

had returned home.

One woman, a bank teller, sent her youngest child and only daughter to the

farm for half a dozen duck eggs. This girl reminded Sunday very much of his

first mother, and he was taken by the compassionate approach she took to

the animals when he toured her round the farm. She visited him once a week

for six months, at the end of which he asked her to be his wife. She—and

her mother—accepted the offer gladly.

The two were married, and, having spent so much of his time amongst the

beasts, soon Sunday felt the pull of the rutting season. But, after being

initially accepting of his advances, his wife came to reject them. She

insisted she did not enjoy the exertions of sexual practice and they had

tried long enough for a child without success. She said they should be

happy with the lot they had, which was no small amount, and should

concentrate their energies on maintaining a successful business.

To Sunday, the farm was no business at all, but life itself, which he

carried on with, bearing only a minor resentment towards his wife, for she

was loving in other ways than solely sensuous ones: she cooked his meals

and balanced the books and kept the house clean and pleasant. Still, he

could not help but watch the frolicking of the rams and ewes and the

thumping feet of excited buck rabbits with no small amount of jealousy.

One day when his wife was visiting her mother, a letter was waiting for

Sunday at the local trading post, the master of whom regularly rode his old

Shire between the two towns on either side of the forest to relate the

latest news and pass on any mail. The handwriting the letter was written in

was small but perfectly legible. It purported to be from a woman on the

other side of the forest, where there were known to be many men but few

women, due to a poor approach to the medicine of childbirth.

The woman—who informed Sunday in the letter that her name was Rainbow and that she had been widowed at a young age—was attempting to establish her

own farm. She had been practicing animal husbandry with dogs, cats and

mice, but the dogs kept chasing the cats and the cats kept eating the mice.

She had heard of Sunday's Farm from visitors from the town, and thought he

might have some small advice for her.

Sunday wrote back immediately, telling her that she should keep one cat for

herself, and also the dogs that most liked to chase the cats, for they

would be useful in rounding up the livestock. The mice she should take one

by one to her neighbours by cover of night and release them at the

thresholds. Having taken this action she should then visit the neighbours

in turn the following week to enquire as to their health, where surely they

would remark upon the problem they were experiencing with mice stealing

their cheeses and bread crusts. 'A-ha,' the Lady Rainbow could then

suggest. 'I have just the thing!' Whereupon she could sell each neighbour a

cat. The money for the sales there-from could be used to purchase such

tools as are needed to construct secure pens for farm animals: a saw,

hammer, nails, mallet and wire.

It so happened that the post came to town each week on the day that

Sunday's wife chose to stay at her mother's to dine. A fortnight on from

the first letter and Sunday's response to it, there awaited him at the

trading post a similar envelope to the first one; though upon collecting it

he noted it to be lavender-scented.

It was a glorious summer day and Sunday returned home to read the letter at

length over his victuals, which he took in the garden. The letter explained

in excited terms how Lady Rainbow had done as he had instructed, but had

not the patience to wait an entire week before calling on her neighbours,

who as it happened, were more than pleased to see her, as their food-stocks

had been much depleted by rodents and every one of them was as eager as the last to buy a cat from her.

Lady Rainbow had now erected her animal pens: three sturdy specimens able

to contain even the fiercest of wild boars. All she needed now were the

animals to put in them. But pray tell what animal, if she could

inconvenience him this one time more, would Mr Sunday commend to her?

Sunday fetched his writing feather and parchment and began to write in

earnest. 'A pleasure not an inconvenience,' he wrote. 'Call upon my modest

expertise at any time' he wrote. 'I hear there are wild chickens living on

the edges of your side of the forest, and mountain goats on the cliffs by

the sea that falls to the further side of your village,' he wrote. And he

picked a wild rose in full bloom in the decorative garden that separated

the forest from his animals' pens, and the petals of this he enclosed in

his missive. Then he made a second journey to the trading post and dropped

the letter into the postal box provided.

Sunday's wife returned from her mother's in good spirits, and that evening

made a fine salad with the freshest of the garden's produce and the newest

of the poultry's eggs and the two of them spent the evening in the garden

after the long day's work was done, playing backgammon and listening to the

sounds of the farm.

The summer was an enjoyable one, spent preparing for the coming of the

wetter and colder seasons, but also exhilarating in the joys of life. Even

Sunday's wife was somewhat overwhelmed by the cheer the sunshine and

warmth brought to the world, and one evening Sunday found himself receiving

advances of an unexpectedly amorous nature.

He and the Lady Rainbow continued their correspondence, and soon word

spread of how there was another farm of almost an equal quality to Sunday's

own operating on the other side of the forest. But similarly to how most of

his clientele were women, most of Lady Rainbow's buyers were men. According

to the trading postmaster, the lady farmer had a way about her to make a

man swoon—it was told that men obeyed her almost as well as did the dogs

she kept for hunting and herding.

Sunday knew this was true enough, as she said as much in her letters,

but—as had been his fair mother's plight—she despaired of ever finding a

man to match her will and her ambition. Sunday could only sympathise with

her and send her more advice on what to do about the foxes currently

troubling her hens.

As the seasons passed, so Sunday's wife's belly grew—the pregnancy was a

surprise to them, but an equal delight, and the farmer was impressed by his

wife's attitude to the prospect of child bearing, and was thankful to find

her opinions regarding the rearing of children somewhat closer to his own

than those of her mother's.

With the responsibility of a child looming, such a child's future security

was much on Sunday's mind. Thinking on the future of his farm, and that of

Lady Rainbow's, he began to lay the foundations of a plan. As the dogs

seemed to be failing her in scaring away the foxes, he wrote to his

mistress-in-writing of the need to venture into the woods and collect sap

from the serpent trees. He would meet her in the centre of the wood and

point out the best trees for making the poison, and also show her how to

collect the sap-honey from the bees without getting badly stung.

By this time summer had come round again, and Sunday's wife had given birth

to a daughter, whom they had named Island. His wife was recuperating from a

difficult birth at her mother's home, and Sunday was left to tend the farm

on his own.

He headed into the woods with his mother's short-sword at his belt. When he

saw her, illuminated by the lantern she carried in the dusk-light, Lady

Rainbow was every part the beauty he had heard described, and more besides.

She was confident and smiling, as delighted to meet him as he was her. He

hoped the results of the night-long honey-smeared tryst he enjoyed with her

beneath the serpent trees would eventually complete the initial stages of

his plan.

After their liaison, Sunday and Lady Rainbow split the sap and sap-honey

between them and headed from the forest in their respective directions.

When Sunday returned to his farm in the early hours, his wife and Island

were waiting for him. His wife told him how she was feeling well enough to

return home, and that she was surprised to return home and find him absent.

He showed her the honey he had brought from the serpent wood and told her

how it was the best in the world, and how it could be used to make a

special mead. He said that as pleased as he was to see them both, he was

tired from the night's exertions in the forest and needed to get some sleep.

He woke to the smell of freshly-baked bread. He enjoyed it with the

sap-honey for his breakfast and took the remainder of the bread with some

boar-meat and an egg for his lunch, and then went out to tend to the

animals, leaving his wife and daughter asleep in the sanctity of their own

home. When it was time for his lunch, Sunday sat on a small hillock

enjoying his food and thought about Island, his wife, Lady Rainbow and his


When he returned home at dusk-fall, it was to find his wife stirring the

contents of a makeshift distillery she had manufactured in the garden. She

had decided to take it upon herself to make the mead he had spoken of.

While his wife stirred the mead, Sunday took Island up in his arms and

carried her about the farm, introducing her to all the animals. 'One day,'

he told his daughter, 'these will be your animals, yours and yours

husband's. And your land will run all the way from here, through the valley

and the woods, and to the cliff-tops above the crashing waves of the sea.'

For the next three weeks Sunday worked eighteen hours a day, and began

clearing the forest nearest to the farm, chopping down the trees, without

regard for ancient nor sapling, nor whether the tree was deadwood or

harboured a thousand forest denizens. By the end of his efforts he had

cleared close to an acre.

'What are you doing that for?' his wife asked him.

'We have a family to consider now,' Sunday said. 'I must make sure I

provide for Island's future.'

At the end of the third week, Sunday walked his wife, along with Island,

into the town to visit her mother. With each step he took had to stifle a

groan of agony, for his body felt as if it had been worked right up to the

graveside. Sunday left mother and daughter by the bank teller's door and

began the torturous route back up the hill towards his farm, but he found

the walk back easier, for rather than the prospect of seeing his

pinch-faced mother-in-law, there was the likelihood of a lavender-scented

letter bearing the tidings he had been hoping for since he had news of

Island's imminent arrival.

He did not follow his usual routine of waiting until he was back at home

and sitting in his garden or by the blazing fireside to read Lady Rainbow's

communiqué, for he was too excited. Instead he tore open the envelope as he

climbed the hill homewards. And the first line of the letter pleased him

greatly. It read, in the Lady Rainbow's tiny script: 'I am with child.'

As the summer progressed and the leaves began to lose their vivid greens in

favour of fiery russet, so Sunday's wife began to warm herself of an

evening by enjoying a half tankard of snake-mead, whilst her husband was

working to clear yet more land. Sunday noticed she became somewhat lax with

the household chores and that the standard of the cooking he was eating had

dropped too. He was so preoccupied with his work of clearing the forest and

with his wife's change of character he failed to notice more than three

months had passed since he had last heard from Lady Rainbow.

One evening, after hours spent battling to uproot a stubborn and aged oak,

he asked his wife if there was any-thing the matter.

'Only that you no longer trouble yourself to admire me or attempt to usher

me to our bed-chamber,' she said, and the statement was very much out of

character. 'Perhaps you have found some other means to satisfy your

needs—is it one of the animals you go bothering now, husband?'

Sunday grimaced. His wife had never spoken to him in such a coarse manner,

nor he suspected had she ever spoken at all in such a way. He watched her

quaff the remainder of her evening's mead.

'No? Not the animals. I presume it is another woman then. Perhaps the one I

have been hearing so much about who lives on the other side of the forest.

Is that why you spend so much more time chopping down trees rather than

spending time with your wife and daughter; to bridge our world and hers?'

'What woman? What are you talking about?'

'Don't lie to me, husband! I speak of the woman who sends you a letter

every month, about the progress of her gestation: Lady Rainbow, who is

pregnant from your seed!' Sunday's wife took three lavender-scented

envelopes from a fold within her petticoats and cast them on the table.

Then she stood. 'I am going to bed. You may sleep in the chicken shed or

the boar-sty to-night, but not in my house.' With that she retired to the


Sunday poured himself a full tankard of mead and sat to read the letters he

had been failing to receive for the last few months. It appeared that the

Lady Rainbow's pregnancy had been a difficult one, and her farm had

suffered for it. Two of her dogs had died, and the third was busy tending a

litter of new puppies. Foxes had returned for her chickens and she had not

the strength to venture into the serpent woods for more poison. She pleaded

for him to come to her aid, and when he did not, she despaired that he had

abandoned her.

He poured and drank another full tankard for additional warmth against the

autumn night, and pulled on the wolf-skin coat he had inherited from his

pale-haired mother. Looking up to the window, he saw his wife's silhouette

staring out at him. Then he ventured into the forest, heading first for the

serpent wood, and then for Rainbow Farm. Thanks to the snake-mead he was

plagued by visions, imagining that the trees themselves had come alive and

were revenging themselves upon him for slaying so many of their brethren.

Yet still he pushed on, through the forest and the dense, dark serpent


On arrival at Rainbow Farm, just at daybreak, sore and smarting from bee

stings and innumerable lashings of bramble and hawthorn, Sunday could hear

a great wailing, and he wondered if the Bean Sidhe had come for him.

Rushing to the little cottage that served as the farmhouse, he discovered

the noise was made by the Lady Rainbow herself, who was alone and naked on

her bed, with the crown of a child's head pushing up from between her legs.

Being a farmer, Sunday was practiced at bringing new life into the world,

and this was not where the problem lie: his son, whom he named Autumn,

after the season of his birth, came into the world healthy and screaming

almost as loudly as his mother, but there was nothing Sunday could do to

prevent the local curse of death in childbirth from afflicting Lady Rainbow.

With the child sleeping in amongst the litter of puppies of Rainbow Farm's

surviving dog, Sunday spent the morning building a pyre for his

companion-farmer. He burnt her at dusk, holding Autumn in his arms and

watching the smoke curl up into the clear, cold night sky. He determined to

remain at the farm and raise the child himself, certain that his wife would

not want him back with another woman's offspring in tow.

His wife for her part had not slept well that night. When she woke from a

fitful sleep, her head heavy with a hangover, she could remember little of

the night's events, save that before falling asleep, she had, from her

bedroom window, seen a bear at the borders of the forest. She was risen at

dawn, and calling for her husband, but she could not find him anywhere: not

in the boar-sty nor the chicken shed, nor anywhere else on the farm. She

woke Island and the two of them hurried into town to her mother's house.

As time passed Island's mother convinced herself, and all those she knew,

that her husband had been eaten by the bear she had seen, who she decided

had been trying to enter the house to steal the honey and snake mead. After

disposing of the mead, she had Island help her erect a high, sturdy fence

where the farmyard met the forest, in order to keep out the wild animals,

and made sure to always keep the short-sword, that once belonged to her

husband's pale-haired mother, close to hand.

She warned her daughter from ever entering the forest, for fear that the

murderous bear would make her its prey, and being a good daughter, although

possessing a measure of her father's attitude, Island respected her

mother's wishes and never entered the forest. Instead the girl honed her

passion for looking after the animals into a specialty, using the space

cleared by her father to maintain a small ranch of horses.

Following the death of Island's grandmother, at the start of lambing season

one year, the trading postmaster came to Sunday Farm. His old Shire was

sick and unable to haul the postal cart along the road that crept round the


Setting herself to shoeing a new horse for him, Island asked the trading

postmaster what he knew of the farm on the other side of the forest,

knowing that he often ventured that way.

'Rainbow Farm?' he said. 'The mistress, Lady Rainbow, died must be close to

when you were born, young Island. In childbirth it was, or so the rumour

has it, though she never re-married after she was widowed. After that an

old hermit and his son took the farm over. They're not the friendliest of

folks, but their hens' eggs are the finest I've ever tasted. Lay all

through the winter too, those hens. I always make sure to buy half a dozen

if I'm passing by.'

As the two of them were chatting, a call of distress came from the kitchen

of the farmhouse. Dropping her iron nails, Island ran towards the sound,

closely followed by the trading postmaster. Upon entering the kitchen they

found Island's mother on the floor. The food she had been preparing for

luncheon was scattered across the flagstones and she was sitting in a heap

nursing her head. Island let out a cry of shock and dropped to the floor

beside her.

'Whatever is the matter?'

The older woman struggled for a few moments to catch her breath, and then

she spoke quietly and with a wavering voice. 'I do not know. I came over

light-headed and then dropped the food tray and the next thing I'm aware of

is you sitting here beside me.'

'I will fetch the physician,' the trading postmaster said. 'Make your

mother comfortable, but do not move her. I'll return in haste.'

The physician was an old man with hairy nostrils and the smell of nicotine

on his fingers. He proclaimed Island's mother to be gravely ill from a long

repressed heartbreak, mixed with the recent grief of losing her mother. He

insisted she was not long for this world and instructed she should stay

confined to her bed-chamber. Soon enough the woman was bed-ridden and

pallid from the lack of daylight.

Late one rainy evening she called for Island, who was beside her as often

as she could be, but was also busy running the farm as best she could. 'I

am thirsty, Island,' she said. 'Thirsty for a certain drink I have not

tasted for a long time.'

'What is it, mother? Tell me where I can find it and I will bring it to you.'

That same evening, on the other side of the forest, Autumn had been left to

tend Rainbow Farm alone, as his father had ventured up to the cliffs in

search of a new Billy Goat to put to stud. A young ewe out in the field

closest to the forest—the field his father had cleared the year

before—had gone into labour. Autumn not being as hardy as his father, but

knowing he had a long night ahead of him out in the dew-damp field, sought

around the cottage for some form of protection against the elements, and he

found the coat made from the skin on the Dire wolf his grandmother had once

slain. He hauled it on around him and pulled the wolf's head-hood over his

brow to protect himself from the rain, then went out to hunker down in the

rain to assist the ewe.

It was close to midnight when the animal eventually gave birth, and through

Autumn's young but expert care, both mother and lamb survived.

On his way back up to the farm Autumn pushed his hands into the pockets of

the coat, and one of them found a collection of papers tied by a red

ribbon. He hurried back to the cottage and lit a lantern at the kitchen

table. Untying the ribbon he discovered the papers were correspondences,

written from his father to his mother and vice versa. The final letter was

in his father's hand, and it was dated the day after Autumn's birthday. The

boy cried very heavily as he read it. Then he wandered from the cottage,

back up to the field with the ewe and newborn lamb present, and into the

forest beyond.

'Snake mead,' Island's mother said.' You will need sap-honey from the

serpent wood.'

Island looked at her mother fretfully.

'Yes, I know I have always warned you not to venture into the forest.'

'It is all right, mother, if it is what you wish, I will fetch the honey

and make your mead.'

'Then you must take your grandmother's sword,' Island's mother said. 'And

if a bear attacks you, you must stab it right between the eyes.'

So advised, Island wrapped herself in her boar-skin overcoat and took a

lantern, heading out into the rain. She walked and walked until the stars

disappeared, hidden by the ever-thickening forest canopy. The forest was

alive with sounds: scuffles from the undergrowth, and hoots and clicks and

foxes' yowls.

Eventually the light changed again, as the trees thinned out, turning from

pine to the unfamiliar foliage found in the serpent woods, where the floor

was twisted with bracken. Island stood still and silent, listening for the

buzzing of the sap-bees but hearing only the pounding of her own blood

through her body. The sword and lantern felt uncomfortable in her grip, and

now she had stopped walking, her feet and neck ached and lack of sleep made

her head feel heavy. She had no idea of how long she had been travelling,

but as it was still dark she believed it to be before four-of-the-morning.

She thought sadly that there would be no cockerel crowing her awake this

morning. Then she heard a crashing behind her, as if of a large creature

pushing through the bracken.

Island swung round with the sword in her hand and looked up into the

piercing, glinting eyes of a fierce-some predator. She raised the sword and

lunged forward towards where the creature's chest should be. By the time

she realised there was a boy beneath the sodden fur, it was too late—her

grandmother's sword had pierced his neck and he fell to his knees, the

wolf's head lolling painfully to one side, as if it really was a part of


Island stood there un-moving, ankle-deep in the bracken.

'I'm...' the boy gurgled, choking on his blood. 'I'm Autumn,' he said.

Before he died he handed her a collection of letters tied together with a

red ribbon. She read them all by the light of the lantern.

By the time Island found her way back to the farm with a small supply of

sap-honey, her mother had already passed on. The rain turned to storm to

suit Island's dark mood. After attending to the funeral arrangements for

her mother she took her finest horse and rode hard through the rain for the

village on the other side of the forest.

When she eventually came to Rainbow Farm there was a man dressed in the

wolf-skin coat her brother had been wearing. He was standing out in the

rain attempting to light a pyre. Island dismounted her horse and walked

over to him to see if she could help.

Story Copyright © 2007 by Lena Patten. All rights reserved.
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About the author

Lena is training to be a psychologist. She enjoys drinking gin and eating walnut and coffee cake. Her best friend Pru is a bit of a nutter.

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