Orchard Kingdom, a first prize winner in the inaugural Ottery St Mary writing competition, was inspired by a real almond orchard where I played as a child. No one died, I’m pleased to say.
Once upon a time a leftover almond orchard lingered in our suburban street. The grown-ups walked by the orchard every day on their way to the bus or the train or the shops. Mostly they ignored it, although in spring their inward-looking eyes might stray outwards for a moment to graze the pale pink petals fading to their magenta centre.
It was us children who knew the world which flourished among the twisted trunks of the almond trees. On hot summer mornings we escaped the dullard wizards and witches who would confine us to our weatherboard prisons. We slipped, one by one, two by two into the insect-buzzing grass between the trees. Provisioned with nectar of orange cordial, and slices of the softest bread filled with white and gold fragments of egg carried in elf-made baskets of satiny tupperware, hunger could not call us away for hours at a time.
We children were kings and queens in our orchard kingdom. We stabbed holes with ragged fingernails into the stems of yellow flowers to weave crowns and royal necklaces. We built stone castles from fallen branches and dug moats of flattened grass. We jousted on stick chargers and brandished twiggy swords, clutched our ketchup bleeding hearts and roiled in deaths which left our hair and clothes covered in emerald seeds.
One day, a knight in golden bark armour scaled a tower tree to rescue a long-haired princess. He stretched to receive his silver-furred almond reward, and tumbled from his brave steed branch into the maw of the dragon roots below. The dragon took him, one piercing bite, and there the brave knight lay, pale and still.
The dullard wizards and witches wept, and forbad us kings and queens forever from the orchard kingdom. They imprisoned us in the weatherboard boxes and when the hundred years of our sentences had passed, we were sent into exile to the playground at the other end of the street.
The playground’s hard wooden roundabout, molten metal slides and black asphalt surfaces scraped our bare knees and elbows, no longer protected by golden bark armour. We kings and queens rebelled, but when we scorned the hard-edged playground and sneaked to our orchard kingdom, we found our entry blocked.
Not by dragons, which we could have dealt with, but by a looming thicket of silver thorns adorned with spells warning Danger Keep Out in rampant red letters.
Worse, the thorny thicket wielded magic to conceal the orchard kingdom from our sight. No amount of squinting past the razor points would reveal our erstwhile country. The knobbled trees, the long grass and the yellow flowers had disappeared, hidden behind a veil of open hot sky and red earth scarred with trenches marked with lines of string.
Orchard Kingdom is one of ten stories in my collection, Dragon Gift – yours for free as a thank you for signing up to my newsletter. Check it out here.