By dawn, Pudlong and his wife, Thully, had been in the field for over a bell already. By Pudlong ‘s estimation, they had ten leagues of beans to hoe before they could plod back to their mats for the evening’s sleep. Add in a break around the tenth bell for supper, and that would be a typical day for the couple. Life as a peasant was nothing if not predictable.
“‘Ere, Thully,” croaked Pudlong, cradling a few string beans in his calloused hand. “These ‘ud make a fine prize come fair time.”
Thully lifted her head from her hoeing to squint at the indicated vegetable, then nodded her lips and nodded. “Yup, that’d do it.” She immediately returned to her hoeing, her medium length brown hair hiding her face. Pudlong had thought that hair to be her best quality when he’d married her fifteen years before. She’d never been a true beauty, but that was probably for the better. Life as a peasant was hard, but it was better than life as a slave girl.
Now Pudlong followed her example, churning up the dirt with one hand, pulling up the weeds and lining the bean rows with the other. The uprooted weeds would choke out newer ones, and keep the water in the soil longer. It was back-breaking work, but Pudlong and Thully knew no other kind. Which was not to say that their lives held no pleasures — even a peasant has his joys. There was abundant, albeit simple, food; there were friends, in the next hut, and the next. If one was lucky there was children, and even if there were children there was still sex. Pudlong no longer thought her hair to be Thully ‘s best parts. And, in the fall, there was the fair, with all its excitement and color.
It was a change in the color of the light on the bean leaves that first caught Pudlong ‘s eye. He glanced up just as Thully gave a slight gasp. Just ahead of the couple, right in the bean field, there was a violet pillar of light. It swirled and grew, then solidified into the figure of a young man. He stood there looking perplexed, shield on one hand, sword in the other, while Thully and Pudlong both straightened.
“‘Ello, lord,” Pudlong offered. The man was properly, if strangely, dressed, and had epaulets of chainmail. He was little more than a stripling in Pudlong ‘s opinion, well- shaven and quite out of place in a bean field. By the looks of him, Pudlong judged him to be one of the many well-born youths with too much money and time, and not enough responsibility.
“Straight down the road, sire, and past the village,” Pudlong told the youth.
“What?” The man was quite lost.
“The castle, sire. Straight down the road, past the village. Ya can’t miss it. Big stone thing.”
“Thank you. Yes. Thank you.” The man began walking toward the road, still holding his shield and sword erect, as if they were frozen in place by shock. After a few steps he turned back. “How did you know that’s what I wanted?” His accent placed him slightly further up the coast.
“That’s what they all want, those what just show up in my bean field. Been three of them ‘ere since last fall, there has. You’re the fourth, if you please, lord.”
“I see.” The man pondered a moment. “Did these others, that just showed up, say they were … looking for … something?”
“I reckon they were looking for that treasure what’s been hidden here abouts by that wizard, Marcellon .”
“Ah! I see. Quite.” He stood a moment, then continued on his way, calling back over his shoulder. “Thank you!”
Thully and Pudlong watched him trod through their beans, to the road, then head up the road, still holding his sword upright. Thully returned to hoeing, while Pudlong moved up to where the youth had appeared. Sure enough, several plants were trodden down and broken.
“Blasted magician,” Pudlong muttered, then returned to hoeing.