Ozren Bozmaroff, the young boyar, looked out of the large window in his bedroom. Like countless of his ancestors before him, he marveled at the beauty of the apple garden in the keep. Yellow fruit glinted against the sun like golden coins, and villagers piled the treasure in baskets.
The golden apples. To Ozren, they were more valuable than any other possession. A symbol of his rule. He followed the hands of the villagers, who tore them from the trees and carried them away with care. There would be enough fruit for everyone and some left to spare. Ozren smiled.
He remembered times when the garden wasn’t as generous. They would scour the trees, branch by branch, to find a single small apple hidden in the leaves. No matter the effort or how well they cared for the trees or protected them, that’s all they would get. Back then, no one knew that the apples didn’t feed on water or sunlight. They needed something that no money could buy, and nothing in nature could produce.
Seven years ago, after one of the worst harvests, his father, Ivan Bozmaroff, spoke to his sons at dinner. The long wooden table in the dining hall was the place for his family’s most important conversations. Somewhere between the crunching of chicken bones and the glasses of wine, Ozren’s father governed his domain.
“I’m closing the orchard to the villagers.” - he said one evening.
The boys dropped the food in their hands, and the housemaid spilled the wine she was pouring into Ivan’s cup.
“I will clean that, sire. I’m sorry, sire.” - she said.
“This year, we won’t give them any fruit. They are stealing the apples, taking advantage of our generosity, but no more.”
The room remained quiet while the housemaid soaked spilled alcohol from the table. Guards closed the gate of the garden that very evening to the disappointment of hungry people searching for fruit, children looking to play, and lovers hiding from the eyes of their parents. Only soldiers and gardeners were allowed in. A few people who didn’t take the orders to heart jumped over the fence, but public lashings in the town’s square showed them their mistake. The searing pain of a whip that hurt for weeks was a good reminder.
It was unnatural to see the garden empty. In autumn, when leaves covered the ground, you could sit by the window and listen to them crunching under people’s feet. In winter, you could see the trails townsfolk make in the snow. This year the autumn was silent, and the snow melted undisturbed.
Only Ivan made his evening walks in the orchard. He would stand by the bushes at its distant end, where he could see the entire village and the fields beyond it. His wife’s favorite spot. It was ironic how he complained every evening when she tore him away from his desk. Yet now, he would rarely miss a night without a stroll.
“Boys, I need to talk to you about something important” - Ivan said to his sons, tearing off a piece of bread at dinner.
“It’s about the orchard. It’s long been the symbol of our family, but it’s no secret that the trees haven’t been too generous to us.”
He took a big sip of wine.
“But there is something else I want to talk to you about. The legend says that when apples seize to grow, house Bozmaroff will fall.”