Since time immemorial, the strawberry and the quince have been at war.
It is difficult to say, so many millennia after the Fructan Conflicts began, just what started it all. Conventional wisdom amongst the strawberries holds that the war began when Baron Dietmar Quince made an improper pass at the Princess May-Louise Strawberry, third and favourite daughter of Emperor Chuck Strawberry IV.
What the quinces believe started the fight is unknown, their story is lost to history. Perhaps somewhere it lies engraved, on forgotten pips in the Asian desert. Cynical historians have suggested that the strawberries may have been envious of the quinces’ juice silos, or their sophisticated mastery of tang. But nobody listens to cynical historians. They lack romance.
Whatever the truth, the result remains the same. The quince was massacred.
This was no easy victory, though, for the strawberry empire. By nature smaller and weaker, they came off poorly in initial skirmishes. For a while, it looked as though they might be wiped from the hedgerows entirely. They were tactically moronic, and physically incapable. Their bright red hues were impossible to camouflage, and they were vastly over-reliant on imported weaponry. Blackberry arms merchants set a high price on thorns, and the empire was forced to sell off huge swathes of their material assets to finance the struggle. The low point came in the eighteenth Fructan century, when Emperor Ranulph Strawberry XXI found himself forced to sell the age-old strawberry monopoly on the pigments pink through crimson. The move saved the empire from bankruptcy, but its results were catastrophic; as raspberries, redcurrants and those tart little berries from Sweden which taste nice with cold meats flooded into the open market, the strawberry force looked spent.
The quinces rolled forwards, effectively unopposed, almost to the gates of the empire. Their thick yellow hides bristled with thorns, but on they came.
In the end, it was the quinces’ own arrogance which undid them. Bored with their effective but slow siege of the empire, their leader Comrade Ruski Quinznikov began to experiment with biological warfare. Early experiments with pesticides met with some success, but the great breakthrough came with the unveiling of what they hoped would prove the ultimate smart bomb: the maggot.
Initially, it was cataclysmic in its effectiveness. Whole strawberry beds were simply eaten away by the little fly-borne projectiles, designed over painstaking years in quince laboratories. But it also provided inspiration to a young generation of strawberry scientists, frustrated with their emperor’s insistence on archaic warfare. The maggot was the proof they needed — a new age of weaponry had begun. Frustrated at his own impotence, and confused by the fast-changing world, Ranulph XXI abdicated — to be replaced by Ranulph XXII, who poured what funds remained into cutting-edge military research.
Credit for the breakthrough is normally given to a scientist named Johnny Strawberry. This may, however, be largely propaganda. Certainly Johnny Strawberry was the perfect poster boy for Ranulph XXII’s new regime; heart shaped, thick-stemmed and pillarbox red. His realisation was that the maggot was thinking small — the strawberries needed something even more dramatic to rescue them from their current plight. So his team, inspired by the quinces’ use of pesticides, slaved away on what would eventually be revealed as the Warfare Manipulation Device.
The concept was simple but brilliant; rather than go to all the effort of creating entirely new biological constructs, the strawberries would manipulate those already present to do their will. The device worked through chemical sprays, containing complex blends of pheromones and hormones, emitted by the strawberries to alter the desires of nearby animal organisms. Now all they needed to do was to choose a weapon. They needed something with the agility and greed to pluck and destroy quinces by the thousand, something fruit-eating yet inherently destructive that would continue to gorge itself long after it was full. Their research threw up a presumptuous African ape called Australopithecus.
The rest, of course, is history. Advanced strawberry technology drip-fed the apes intelligence and motivation, and quinces were consumed in staggering quantities. Slowly, provoked by carefully constructed chemical hints, the apes began to fashion tools from rocks, to slash quinces from their bushes in dozens. Australopithecus became Homo habilis became Homo erectus became Homo sapiens sapiens. The apes evolved and spread across the globe, all the while unconscious that the urges driving them were simply the military machinations of some small, plump and now incredibly smug red berries.
Led by their unknown masters, the apes developed cookery, and their ability to consume the bitter quince multiplied enormously. Previously unpalatable, it was now a delicacy for the rapidly-evolving humans. A brilliant strawberry anthropologist fed them the notion of combining the quince with cane sugar, and consumption rocketed further. Others worked on teaching the apes metalwork, giving them ever-more efficient quince-harvesting implements.
Victory seemed complete. Strawberries were now commonplace, the quince relegated to scattered strongholds in Western Asia, along with caged examples kept in captivity in orchards and botanic gardens. With the invention in the 1870s of the runcible spoon, Emperor George Strawberry CXLVII declared the war against the quince to be an end, in his famous Berrysburg address:
“The evil quince dominion of the past is no more. This world is a strawberry world! These fields are strawberry fields, and will be strawberry fields…” — he paused for dramatic effect — “…forever.”
And there, things would have ended, if they had only known how to tell the humans to stop.
The twentieth century whirred into gear, and brought with it human alteration of the world on an unprecedented scale. Equipped with all the skills they had been taught, people created concrete and metal infrastructures, engines that belched megatons of smoke into the atmosphere, flying machines and automobiles by the millions. The population soared. Billions upon billions of ugly human infants were brought, squalling, into the world. Crying for something to eat.
The humans, armed with evil grins and plates of cream, turned on their creators. The strawberries desperately tried to reverse the effects of their manipulation, but it was far too late. They had taught the people greed, but they had not taught them satiety. Their sweet flesh, now, is rendered asunder by simian molars. Small refugee colonies in scattered country gardens survive, where they cluster together in fear of the sharp-eyed apes which they trained to destroy. Other than this, they survive only in mass slave camps, vast synthetic tunnels of hell where they are born only to die, plucked as soon as they reach maturity, hoisted upon their own petards.
Huddling, doomed, in a pavlova, the strawberries curse their ingenuity.
I should probably explain how this little tale came about. On Wednesday eve, me and Emil were discussing writing, and how one knew whether one was any good at it. Then Emil came out with an extraordinary sentence. “You should write essays,” he said. “I mean, if you went and wrote like five pages about strawberries, then I would be able to read it and I would know if you could write.” — so naturally, on Thursday afternoon, I knocked together this
And so, Emil, consider my draft submitted.