27 Jun

Most of the cultivated farm land in the Acreage Republic lay in the enormous, perfectly flat Grand Prairie, and its dominate crop was some form of wheat. But the all-powerful Exarch of Acreageland was a health fanatic who nursed a secret wish to rid his country of each and every variety of wheat, whatever it happened to be. His heartfelt purpose was to eradicate any and all specific types of wheat plant on the farmland of the nation.

Exarch Niot was a fat, round ball of a man with hickory eyes and thinning yellow hair. An only child, he was accustomed to getting his way in all matters important to him. His primitive hatred for wheat in all forms lay at the heart of his way of using official authority and power.

The Ministry of Agriculture and its top administrator, Wat Flith, was obligated to serve and satisfy his plans and wishes, however outrageous they might turn out to be.

The lanky, haggard official entered the Exarch’s private reception chamber with dread and anxiety. What was the stubborn autocrat going to order him to accomplish this time? How outrageous, how impossible were his demands going to be? wondered the fearful cabinet minister.

Niot invited Wat to take a metal chair opposite his own throne-like one.

“I have decide that it is time to issue my first general prohibition,” began the ruler of Acreageland. “The question is where will it be best to begin. It must not be too drastic a change. I do not wish to alarm the farmers who carry out the cultivation.

“My decision is that we start with the complete banning of one of the most ancient forms of triticum wheat. I have picked spelt as the target.

“What do you say to that, Wat? How difficult or complicated might such an operation become? How quickly can the preliminaries be carried out by your bureaucrats?”

The other suddenly felt the ground shaking under him. “That is hard to estimate, sir, but I would think that a month might be enough time to get the administration and the landowners prepared. It will be a very radical change for those involved in spelt growing, but it can and will be done. I have no doubt of that in my mind.”

“Not a minute to lose,” asserted the Exarch. “Start the wheels rolling at once, Wat.”

Wat Flith enjoyed little sleep or rest for the next month, concentrating on promulgating and enforcing the seemingly arbitrary will of his superior.

What was the cause or reason for the Exarch’s senseless decision?

No one dared ask the man who was acting like an autocrat. Guessing went on in private, but no one dared say anything in public.

Spelt, or the spelled variety, had very ancient origins and was rich in a broad range of nutrients. Biologists in the Ministry of Agriculture expressed their opinions in secret to Wat,

“Our people will lose its high protein content, its richness in phosphorus and manganese. Spelt has a sweet, nutty flavor that many have come to like. It consists of healthy complex carbohydrates. How are we going to explain this prohibition to the scientific community or the general public?”

Wat felt profound embarrassment, for he had no ready answer. “Just tell the truth: no one knows why our Exarch has decided to forbid the cultivation or consumption of ancient spelt. Nothing like this has ever happened before, as far as I know.”

Baxo Luth was a young prairie farmer with generations of ancestors involved with the development of modern hybrid wheat in Acreageland.

Strong and handsome with bluish-white eyes and straw hair, he enjoyed a widespread popularity resting on his attractive personality.

Baxo reacted at once when he first learned of the prohibition of spelt.

He visited half a dozen of the farmers in his section to express his anger and indignation.

“This is a scandalous outrage,” he told them. “Never has any predecessor of Niot dared do anything like this. It is a lawless misuse of Exarch authority. How much farther does our ruler aim to take us? What grain will he prohibit us from growing next? We may be surprised by what is going to be done to our crops.”

After a time, the conversations led by Baxo turned into speeches to irate groups of farmers at various homesteads in the region.

“We cannot afford to be passive, obedient witnesses of what is going on,” he said with fire in his voice and in his milky eyes. “There will be no one else to blame but ourselves should we allow our farms to be completely ruined with such regulations and commands.”

“But is there anything left for any of us to do?” demanded an older farmer. “Do we have to sit back and accept whatever is going to be done?”

Baxo made a sad frown. “I am trying to figure a way out of this,” he muttered as if from a distance.

The Exarch addressed the Minister of Agriculture with an air of disdain, as if he had doubts about his ability and loyalty.

“The time to go forward has arrived,” stated Niot in a cold, authoritative voice. “I have chosen what the next wheat to be prohibited will be. It is going to be korasan.”

“Korasan? Why that particular grain? It is grown by only a few of our farmers and little used by the public or the baking industry.”

The ruler stared with fury at Wat Flith. “It is common knowledge that of all the varieties that are known to us, Korasan is the most recent one imported into our territory. Acreageland would have none of this particular grain had it not been brought to us from a faraway region somewhere.

“No one can claim that the disappearance of Korasan will deprive our population of a food native to our own land.

“It will be no major loss in any way,” the Exarch concluded, turning away and making a rapid exit from the room.

What species of wheat does not have a foreign point of origin? Wat asked himself again and again, in the hours following the meeting with the man who had begun the campaign against that particular grain.

Now he starting to understand the bizarre motivation behind the prohibitions.

It had to do with the fact that wheat was not native to their country.

That had never before been a problem for anyone.

Exarch Niot, through some unexplainable method of thought and feeling, had come up with the strange goal of, step by step, eradicating all the kinds of wheat know or imaginable.

That was the ruinous conclusion produced by a disoriented mind belonging to the man serving as all-powerful ruler of the Acreage Republic.

The Minister of Agriculture fell into profound despair, because there appeared to be nothing he could do to stem the threatening catastrophe.

Baxo Luth was surprised at the vehement emotions of the other leaders of the wheat-growers meeting with him at his farm house.

“We cannot wait, because it will very soon be too late to change what is happening.”

“There biggest obstacle we face is our own cowardice. Our ancestors would never have allowed any Exarch to get away with what Niot is doing to the farmers like us. When are we going to act rather than just whine?”

“I would not be afraid to take a gun and shoot that man who claims to have authority over us. If not an assassination, then let’s kidnap the rat.”

Baxo finally spoke with decisive clarity.

“The Exarch has too many armed personal guards to allow anything to be done. But there is another figure who is in a defenseless situation but could be a valuable pawn if taken and held.”

“Who would that be?” asked one of the feverish farmers.

“The Minister of Agriculture, Wat Flith,” replied the head of the burgeoning wheat-growers’ movement of opposition and resistance.

The tall, thin cabinet official in charge of the Exarch’s anti-wheat campaign liked to take long walks through parkland. This gave him a lot of opportunity to think out the problems presented before his official post by the erratic interference and policy changes of his superior, the ruler of the country.

He was so preoccupied that it was easy for a team of amateur abductors to surround him on all sides. By the time that consciousness of his peril dawned on him, it was too late to attempt or accomplish any escape. A human noose circled him in all directions.

“Do not try anything, sir, but come along with us,” commanded Baxo in a stern tone. “You have nothing to fear if you show yourself to be cooperative.”

Minister Flith moved along with the team of captors, to a terrain vehicle in which he was whisked away to a destination of which he had not the slightest knowledge.”

Baxo took charge of the interrogation of the prisoner once they where in a distant, recessed small building on a small, inconspicuous farm on the outskirts of the city.

The questioner sat across the kitchen table from the disoriented, terrified Wat Flith.

“We want to know as much as you do about this evil attempt to rid our farms of certain kinds of wheat. What is really behind it? Will the operation expand to include every separate variety? Why is the Exarch intend to uprooting such a vital, important crop that provides our population its daily bread?”

Wat started to speak as if alone be himself. “It is hard to understand the man, what he is up to and why he acts the way that he does.

“I confess that I do not know why our ruler is so anti-foreign.”

“Anti-foreign?” asked Baxo with surprise. “What do you mean?”

The Minister looked away, avoiding the bluish white eyes of the farmers’ leader.

“Who can explain his mental puzzle? All I know is that he sees wheat, all wheat, as an imported grain with no proper place in our country of Acreageland. It must be destroyed and completely removed from our soil.

“He is desperate to have no foreign grain such as wheat available in the diet of our people. It must be gone for good, he believes with all his heart.”

“That is it?” asked Baxo with confusion and doubt. He stared at the kidnapped official with incredulity, as if he was lying for some unknown reason.

“That is the truth, I swear to it,” averred Wat with conviction. “Why else did the man start this crusade to uproot every bit of wheat?”

The two of them fell silent for a considerable time.

Baxo had difficulty falling asleep that night. He had brought an outdoor sleeping-bag with him from his farm and lay down it a little before midnight, tired and overburdened with worries.

How was he going to convince the Exarch to change his attitude and his policy having to do with the varieties of a single kind of grain? Perhaps it had been a big mistake to abduct the Minister of Agriculture, he began to think.

Baxo awoke with an unusual feeling at the break of dawn the next morning.

Somehow, his unconscious sleeping mind had come up with an idea that might contain the seed of victory.

How could he bring it about? His mind’s inner precincts had conceived a fantastic solution to the problem of the Exarch’s phobia about foreign strains of wheat.

What if he could be made to accept a seemingly preposterous interpretation of the origin of all kinds of wheat within the boundaries of his own native land, Acreageland? What if he no longer saw all kinds of wheat as foreign imports?

How was that to be done? he asked himself over and over, until an answer occurred to him. It was a ridiculously simple trick, but it might work.

I have never seen the Exarch, and he has never caught sight of me.

If I create an imaginary identity for myself, why should he question it?

If it works, I could convince him to reverse his view of wheat and its geographic origins.

It is crazy enough to work, the clever farmer said to himself.

Minister Flith used a farmer’s pointphone to talk to the Exarch in his official residence.

“Sir, I have to see you at once. There is a person who has an important matter to tell you about. This cannot wait, but has to be dealt with immediately. I emphasize how urgent the subject is.”

“Come here at once, then,” ordered the man who ruled Acreageland.

In less than twenty minutes, a landcar carrying Wat and Baxo arrived at the government mansion. The two visitors walked into the building, heading straight for the office of Exarch Niot.

The latter was standing next to the window and the two who entered did the same.

The Exarch, staring at the stranger, asked Wat what message he had to deliver.

“I have come here to introduce you, sir, to a Professor of History named Dr. Baxo Luth,” said the Minister of Agriculture. “He has something very important that he believes he must report directly to you.”

Niot look inquiringly at the stranger. “Yes?” he asked him.

“I have been involved in years of research on the question of the historical origin of certain agricultural plants that we grow today. My special topic of interest has been wheat and how it began as a crop.

“Long study by me and others has established the truth of one general conclusion. It is that our homeland of Acreageland has served as the birthplace of what, all varieties of that grain.

“There is not a single species of wheat that first grew or was cultivated in another country. We are the inhabitants of the birthplace of each and every form of wheat.

“No other land has the right to make such a claim. That privilege is ours alone.”

Baxo looked fearlessly into the face of the bewildered Exarch.

The latter turned toward the Minister of Agriculture and asked a question.

“Why was I never informed until now of what this professor claims to be true?” he said in a dry, harsh voice.

“It only today came to my attention, sir,” confessed Wat. “I knew nothing about this until only a short while ago.”

Niot began to back away from the other two, without turning himself around.

“Excuse me, please. I need time to think about this. Do not bother me about anything. I shall be the one who will summon you back.”

With that, the Exarch made a fast, abrupt exit from the room.

Wat and Baxo turned to each other. The Minister was the one who spoke.

“I believe we have shaken his views and attitudes,” he said in a whisper. “Now, it is only a matter of time till he changes his mind on wheat.”

The two left the residence feeling high confidence.

It was before midnight that the Exarch telephoned Wat to inform him that all the wheat bans and prohibitions were permanently ended and suspended.

The reason given: none of the wheat grains grown in Acreageland were genuinely foreign, all were by nature species native to Acreageland.


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