It was a hot day, several days later, as Levy sat in the back of the family wagon as it rumbled along the road. Levy was thirsty and uncomfortable. He was resting his feet, having walked nearly five leagues. He squinted up at the sun, then gazed dourly at the wagon ahead of his own. Its driver had put a canopy up, something Levy could also have done if it hadn’t been for that fact that neither of the other two wagons in the small caravan had canopies, and Levy didn’t want to appear to be trying to set himself equal to the occupant of the leading wagon, Lord Farley.
And Pudlong, Levy reminded himself. It was an unusual thing. Pudlong himself sat beside the fat ruler, both dressed in fine silks. Lord Farley looked much better in the silks — Pudlong’s coarse features just didn’t lend themselves to the finery, although Levy had to admit that the peasant certainly carried himself more nobly than the greasy lord. It made for a strange scene. It almost hadn’t been that way. Levy remembered the chain of events that led to his current position.
“Give me that!” Mon-Haddar had screamed when he saw Pudlong with the seed.
“No! Pudlong …” Levy had yelled, but the wiry wizard was already wrenching the find from the peasant’s grasp.
“Mine! It’s mine!” The old man roared. But as he passed his hands over the surface of the seed, his visage clouded over. “No. No! It’s not here. There’s nothing here!” He rubbed it frantically, but nothing happened. Bren then stepped up behind the man and yanked the bean from him, throwing him to the ground in the process. He then stared at the bean for a moment, then heaved it to Levy almost in revulsion.
“Levy, take it!”
Levy put out his hands to catch it. But the seed was actually made of gold, and the sheer weight of it bowled Levy over. As he sat there on his rump, he marveled that the skinny wizard had been able to even hold it. He cast an appraising look at Bren, mentally noting that the ex-herald was stronger than he looked.
“Give that back!” Mon-Haddar shouted from the ground, his arm outstretched, but Bren silenced him with a swift boot.
Levy stared at the bean. Its lustrous surface almost seemed to draw him in. He ran a hand over its hard, smooth surface, but all he felt was cold gold.
“What is this supposed to do, Mon-Haddar?” Levy demanded, not feeling a bit foolish for his undignified posture. Aside from profanity, Mon-Haddar said nothing. Levy stroked the bean, but nothing happened.
“‘ere, m’lord,” Pudlong said helpfully, “you ‘ave to do it like this.” He extended a hand with two fingers out, and slowly drew them along the bean’s surface. At the same time he closed his eyes, and gestured slowly at the surrounding field. This time Levy did feel something. He had no idea what it was; it wasn’t a vibration, it wasn’t heat, or motion, or sound, or anything he knew. But something happened to the bean, and then all around, from every plant, from every weed, there came a tiny rustling, almost a crackling. As the four men watched, astounded, every plant in the field slowly grew an extra handsbreadth. Pudlong opened his eyes, a sweet, dreamy smile on his face. “That’s ‘ow you do it.”
Levy stared up at the peasant. “How did you know to do that?”
“It’s ‘ow it works, lord.” Came the simple reply.
“But … how did *you* know that?”
“Well I just …” Pudlong paused. “Well I … I …” He frowned. “I don’t rightly know, lord.”
Levy stood, handing the heavy talisman to Pudlong. “Make them small now.”
“Oh, you can’t do that,” Pudlong responded easily. “The good what’s done is done.” He faltered then. “‘er, if you please, m’lord. I mean, that is how it is … isn’t it?” He looked around the group for support.
Levy smiled, patting the peasant slowly on the back. “Of course, Pudlong, just as you say.” Levy carefully took the man by the arm and steered him toward the hut. The others followed, Bren throwing a savage look of warning at Mon-Haddar. As they walked, Levy looked around. Every plant in Pudlong’s field, even as far as Levy could see, had grown. Across the simple dirt road, in the neighbor’s field, all was as it had been.
“Pudlong, can you make just the beans grow?” Levy asked carefully.
“Sure, m’lord.” Pudlong cradled the bean in one arm and casually waved at the plants. The same sound stopped them all in their tracks, as the bean plants, and only the bean plants, stretched themselves toward the sun. Not a weed in sight grew. Bren cursed softly under his breath. Pudlong turned slowly to look at Levy, a sudden understanding in his eyes.
“Things ‘ll change now, won’t they?”
Levy nodded soberly. “Yes they will, Pudlong.” He looked around at the enchanted field. “Yes they will.”
And they had. The five had walked up the road to D’yarn’s field, and Pudlong repeated the same miracle on D’yarn’s potatoes that he had performed on his own beans. D’yarn joined them as they moved to the next farmer’s field and repeated the act. That farmer too followed them, and by the time they reached the keep, a small crowd had formed. Lord Farley joined them at the gate.
“What is this?” He asked sternly, glaring at Levy.
“Lord Farley, Pudlong here has something to show you.” Levy said carefully, presenting Pudlong to his lord, ignoring the hissing and popping sounds that seemed to be coming from Mon-Haddar.
“It’s a bean, m’lord. It does magic.” Pudlong handed the bean to Farley, who sagged under the weight, but kept a tight grip nonetheless. He studied it a moment.
“How does it work?”
“Like this, m’lord.” Pudlong touched the bean, and glanced over at a small tree growing wild by the gate. He gently motioned in the air, as if stroking the sapling’s trunk. He slowly raised his hand higher and higher, as all around came soft gasps of delight and awe. As his arm reached its maximum extension, he rotated his hand around and cupped it, as if holding it out to cradle something. Sure enough, an apple landed softly in his upheld palm. Before the stunned crowd stood a majestic, fully-fruited apple tree. Lord Farley simply stood and stared slackjawed. Levy stepped up beside him and whispered in his ear.
“It only works for Pudlong.”
Farley closed his mouth and stared at his peasant.
And so the circus had begun. With his court in tow, Farley began to parade his latest treasure around his extensive holdings. During the recent war, the land had been stripped and trampled, burned and looted. The crops had gone in late, and there were not enough bodies to tend the soil. Pudlong’s gift was more welcome than any box of precious gems, and Farley immediately put it to good use.
Starting in the center of the realm and working outward, every field and every orchard was blessed by the new wizard. The wagons would stop, Farley would announce his intentions to the assembled peasants, and Pudlong would make the particular plot of land mature to fruition. Then the party would move off to the next plot.
With Farley and the court came Bren and the Barels, and Mon-Haddar and Yellow. Mon-Haddar never lost the hungry look that frightened and worried Levy, and Levy never let his eyes off the cagey wizard for more than a few menes at a time. Bren too watched the wizard. Yellow didn’t seem to watch much of anything, and only Eleya seemed to want to watch him, having taken a fancy for the slender youth. Sarah watched her. Thully rode in the wagon with Pudlong, sitting behind him and stroking his thinning hair, and Farley rode beside Pudlong, expounding on how many great things Pudlong was going to do for him, to make him rich.
Pudlong himself seemed quite bemused by the whole affair. He quickly adapted to the attention and fame his new abilities brought. He continued to defer to Farley in everything, and whatever favors Farley bestowed on him were equally shared with the attentive and adoring Thully. She even sat in his lap as they rode in the wagon, no mean feat. All in all, Pudlong seemed to be having a grand time, and seemed to be none the worse for wear because of it.
At Farley’s insistence, Pudlong quickly discovered the limits to his new power. It seemed that there was no size limit to how large a field Pudlong could grow, or how many trees, but he could only grow one field at a time. Levy noticed that the limits seemed to be the limit of Pudlong’s own mind; if Pudlong couldn’t see it, it wouldn’t happen. Once, Farley asked Pudlong to grow pears on an apple tree: it didn’t happen. When Farley asked Pudlong to bless all the land at once, Pudlong tried, screwing his eyes up tight and breathing hard, but again, nothing happened. When Farley asked Pudlong to grow a cow, Pudlong and the cow just stared at each other, with equal amounts of interest and intelligence. And when Farley asked Pudlong to kill the weeds in a field, Pudlong simply and flatly stated that the bean didn’t “do that sort of thing, m’lord.”
And so the weeks went. The entourage tromped through sunny fields and down narrow winding paths to stately orchards and wet rice paddies. In each place, Farley would pronounce, Pudlong would gesture, and the plants would grow, then they’d move on. After almost a month it looked like the tour would end, but then Farley crossed the border of his own land and began blessing the crops of his neighbor. They passed the well-armed caravan that carried the payment back to Farley’s keep. Bren stared, Mon-Haddar salivated, Farley beamed, Pudlong waved, and Levy just shrugged. Their own caravan kept right on going.
That night they camped in a clearing in the woods. All around, the scrub pine gave off a fragrant odor. Levy could smell the autumn approaching. It was a familiar feeling, and one he normally would have welcomed in stride. But for some reason he felt a sense of foreboding, as if a great evil was looming. He tried to shake it off, but it clung to him. He met Bren at the campfire. Bren was scanning the dark treeline, his hand tight on the hilt of his sword. Levy eyed the ex-herald.
“You feel it too,” was all Levy said. Bren nodded, never taking his eyes off the trees.
“You take first watch,” Levy said, “wake me at the last bell.” Bren nodded, and Levy slid under the covers beside Sarah. He lay there, remembering what the scrolls had said. He began to pray.
The dawn found Sarah finishing her watch, the children sleeping around her. Levy and Bren were up also, earlier than usual, standing near the patient oxen. On the other side of the communal fire, Farley sat in the wagon, talking with Mon-Haddar. Pudlong was approaching the two from the edge of the clearing, where a stream bubbled and laughed. By its edge, just visible in the morning mist, Yellow and Thully were washing, at each’s owner’s insistence. All around the campground, the rest of the royal court was about their morning business.
It was on this tableau that the monster appeared. His head showed over the tops of the trees with such rapidity that no one even had a chance to shout before the giant had parted the trunks like weeds and stepped into the middle of the clearing. Dressed in rusting mail and tattered leathers, the giant was a grizzled apparition. His beard alone was as long as a man was tall. He studied the group, as if looking for something.
As the giant scanned the campground, each person reacted. Sarah flattened herself over the children, grabbing the blanketed forms and drawing them close. Levy dashed to her side. Bren stepped back, eyes wide, and drew his sword, his feet wide apart in a fighting stance. Yellow and Thully continued their lavage, oblivious to the crisis. Mon-Haddar took one glance at the creature and ran. Farley called his guards to him, while Pudlong just stood and gaped.
Finally the monster saw Farley, sitting in the royal wagon.
“YOU!!” He bellowed. “I’LL BET YOU TOOK IT!!” His voice shook the entire clearing. With half a step the giant covered the distance to Farley’s wagon. With one swipe of a mammoth hand he brushed aside the guardsmen, and with the other hand he snatched Farley off the wagon. He lifted the struggling lord to his face and shouted at him. “GIVE ME BACK MY GOLD!!”
In moments the Barel children found themselves in the wagon, tossed there by six desperate hands. Sarah was on the buckboard, reins in hand. Levy was switching the oxen wildly, his eyes fixed on the towering creature in the clearing. Bren was also facing the giant, sword drawn, backing away after the wagon. Thully and Yellow, by the creek, finally had seen what was going on and were standing, awestruck, while the lord’s entourage scrambled about in panic. To a man, the guards were trying to pick themselves up after having been swatted aside like kittens. The giant stood unopposed in the center, Farley crammed into his fist. He started to turn, to leave the clearing with his prisoner, when a small man ran in front of him.
“Stop!” Pudlong stood there, bean in the crook of his hand, while he held the other arm out to warn off the miscreant.
“EH?” boomed the giant.
“Put my lord down,” Pudlong commanded firmly.
“DOWN?” The giant exclaimed. “HA!”
The giant started to reach down for Pudlong. For a moment indecision flashed across Pudlong’s face. Then his expression hardened, and he made a violent gesture with his free hand. The ground rippled and shook, and a thunderous roar filled the air. Every plant within a hundred handsbreaths of the giant suddenly started growing. Not like the gentle increase that Pudlong generally drew forth, but an explosive surge, leaping up, lunging higher. And each one was growing *toward* the giant. Tree roots, thick and gnarly, heaved up from the soil and fastened themselves to the giant’s feet. Creeping vines flashed up along his legs, twining themselves around his waist. Grass and weeds sprouted from his pant cuffs, then in a twinkling propagated up his legs and covered his whole body. In an instant there were trees around him, hedging him in, pinioning his arms and actually lifting him off the ground. The giant barely had time t o let loose a frustrated bellow before his head was enveloped in growth. A startled Farley fell from his grasp, only to be cushioned in a sudden thicket. Before the shaken guard could even reassemble itself around the quaking Farley, the giant was completely obscured by writhing mass of greenery that hadn’t been there mere moments before.
Pudlong threw himself at Farley’s feet.
“M’lord!! M’lord!! Are you alright!?!?” He patted the man’s feet obsessively, as if to reassure himself that they were there.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Pudlong! Pudlong, you saved me!! You saved my life!!” Farley seized the startled peasant and drew him into a passionate bearhug.
“Aye, m’lord, I thought for a moment you’re a goner!”
Bren joined the rest of the court as they crowded around the Lord. Levy stood and stared at where the giant had stood. The trees and plants continued to move, as if they had a life of their own, but one by one they pulled back from the central mass, separating themselves out, and even shrinking in some cases. After a mene, the miraculous growth still remained, but as a mere thicket. The giant was gone. Levy immediately thought of the beanstalk. He suspected that it too was now nowhere to be found. Something important had happened.
By this time Pudlong and Farley were being carried on the shoulders of the guard, surrounded by shouting courtiers. Sarah appeared at Levy’s side, still frightened. Yellow and Thully joined them, as they watched the joyous group celebrate their lord’s amazing rescue. From his vantage point Levy studied Pudlong’s face. He stared at it a long time, trying to make out what was going on behind that pleasant visage. He finally gave up, not able to find anything at all.
The circus continued touring throughout the last of the summer. It was just after the first cold night of the season that Mon-Haddar made his move. One night, as the camp lay sleeping, Mon-Haddar stirred beneath his bedroll. He listened for a long moment, then reached his hand into a large sack he had tucked away beneath his covers. With a whispered incantation he flung his hand into the air. A silvery dust twinkled for a moment in the cold moonlight, then floated away, settling on the sleeping group.
The wizard waited for a dozen heartbeats, but no alarm arose, no cries rang out. He squinted at the watchmen standing near Farley’s wagon, then craned his neck to pick out the other guards hidden in the gloom. He carefully extracted a small jar from under the blanket and opened it, whispering all the while. A dozen small insects flew out. Mon-Haddar watched for several menes until the last of the guards had been bitten, and fallen asleep.
Mon-Haddar arose, taking his sack of silver dust with him. He again tossed the dust into the air with a chant. He strode among the sleepers, repeating the gesture and the words, until he came to the wagon where Farley, Pudlong and Thully lay, the now-asleep guards around them. There he repeated the gesture three times, coating the entire wagon with a thick coat of the sleeping powder. Then he carefully reached in and slipped the golden bean from Pudlong’s unfeeling arms. Without the excited energy of his first encounter, the bean’s weight was almost too much for the man to handle, and it thumped and banged against the sides of the wagon. But everyone slept on while Mon-Haddar carried the heavy loot to his horse and lashed it safely into a saddle bag. He then tossed his bedroll over the horse’s back. He glanced only briefly at Yellow, asleep with the rest, then took the horse’s reins and walked off into the night.
Levy awoke the next day almost at noon. He blinked a few times and leaped to his feet, startled that he had overslept so badly. He looked around in relief to see that the entire entourage seemed to still be there. In fact, most were still sleeping. The few who were awake were stumbling about, doing getting-up things, all looking quite groggy. Levy rubbed his eyes, and was surprised to find the silvery powder smeared over his fists. He looked about, and there seemed to be the silvery powder everywhere. He glanced over at Yellow, who was still sleeping soundly beside the empty spot where Mon-Haddar had slept. Bren stood up from his bedroll, obviously unhappy with himself for having slept late. When Levy hurried toward Pudlong’s wagon, Bren followed.
The guards were standing in their places, watching the occupants stretch. As the two approached, Pudlong scratched his furry pate, looked confused, and began to glance about for the bean. When Levy saw him begin to search, his stomach clenched.
“Thully, luv, ‘ave you seen it?” Pudlong was asking.
“Naw, but I can feel it,” she replied without opening her eyes, patting his crotch familiarly.
“No, luv, the other one.”
“Awww, I like *this* one.”
“Didn’t you put it under the spare wheel last night?” Levy asked as he stepped up to the wagon.
“No, I always sleep with it in my … ” Pudlong stopped as he dragged a heavy object wrapped in a cloak from under the spare wheel. As he unwrapped it a hint of gold peeped out.
“What’s this stuff?” asked Farley, sitting up and brushing off the silvery dust.
“And why’s it all wrinkled?” asked Pudlong, running his hand over the golden bean. Sure enough, the surface of the bean was covered with a series of fine wrinkles.
“Mebbe the dust came from the bean,” Thully wondered. Pudlong started hard at the bean, a worried look on his face. He stroked it carefully with two fingers, unsure. He glanced at a small pine tree growing nearby. He raised his hand and stroked the air as if to stroke its bark. The tree obligingly grew, taller and taller, until it towered over the appreciative group.
“Well, if it did, it doesn’t seem to have hurt it any,” Farley said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Levy replied, smiling first at the tree, then at an uncomprehending Bren. “No, it doesn’t seem to have hurt anything at all.”
That day Levy and Sarah took their leave of Pudlong, Thully, and Farley. With Bren, they began the long trek back north, after having extracted promises from Pudlong and Farley to keep them informed as to the beanstalk’s final fate. They packed the children in the wagon and hitched up the oxen. Just as they were getting ready to leave, Yellow walked up to them.
“Have you seen Mon-Haddar?” he asked.
“No,” replied Sarah. “Why?”
“His horse is gone, and all his things,” replied Yellow, frowning.
“I’m afraid he left in the night,” stated Levy firmly. “I doubt he’s coming back.”
Yellow looked back at the spot where his master had slept. “Did he say where he was going?”
“Back to the hole where he came from, I imagine,” Levy replied wryly. He glanced down at Yellow. “Or maybe not, if you know where that is. I wouldn’t try to follow him, either. I doubt you’d be able to catch him.”
Yellow fell silent, staring at the ground.
“Levy,” Sarah asked, staring at Levy with a curious expression, “shouldn’t we look after him? At least until Mon-Haddar comes back for him?”
“Of course,” Levy replied, catching on immediately, “of course we should. Why wouldn’t we?”
“What do you mean, sir?” Yellow asked.
“Well, you can’t stay here with Farley. He won’t have you. And we might meet up with Mon-Haddar later, farther down the road. You should come with us, just in case.”
Yellow thought about it a moment, then his expression brightened. “I guess that just makes sense. I’m sure the master would want that.”
“Go fetch your stuff and your horse. We’re leaving now,” Sarah admonished the young man. Yellow trotted off to do as bidden. Sarah looked down at Levy, who shrugged.
“We’ll figure something out,” was all he said.
It wasn’t until a week later, as they were halfway to Magnus, that Bren finally broached the subject. They were sitting around a table in an inn, the Barels and Yellow eating dinner while Bren drank from a large stein.
“He stole it, didn’t he.”
“‘course ‘e did,” Levy replied around a corncob.
“‘Oo ‘tole what?” Yellow asked similarly.
“The bean,” Bren replied, looking intently at Levy. “Mon-Haddar stole the bean. That’s what that was all about at the wagon, the morning we left. That’s why he snuck off in the night.”
“The master stole the bean?” Yellow asked, astounded.
“Yes, he did. He sprinkled the silver dust on us, to keep us from waking up, then he stole the bean and left.”
“But, but,” sputtered Yellow, “but the bean was still there!”
“A fake,” Bren replied, taking a drink. Levy nodded.
“I knew it was coming. Sarah and I made a copy and I hid it in the wagon. It’s much easier to sneak something into somewhere than to sneak something out of somewhere.”
“We used some of our gold leaf and a chunk of lead we bought along the way,” Sarah explained easily.
“But it still worked,” Yellow protested. The children were listening too.
“It never was the bean doing it,” Levy explained. “Oh, I’m sure it gave the power to Pudlong, but once that happened it was Pudlong that was doing it. After all, look at what the power turned out to be. Who ever heard of a magic bean that would make plants grow faster? The power was based on who and what the receiver was. If I had gotten it, I don’t know, maybe the carts wouldn’t have worn out. No, all Mon-Haddar stole was a big chunk of gold.”
“Still a valuable prize,” commented Bren.
“Well, I wasn’t sure he was going to steal it, or I would have told Farley. No, what we did worked out just right.”
Bren didn’t comment.
“I don’t know if anyone noticed, but over the last week we were there, Pudlong had to concentrate longer when he worked his magic, and the plants grew slower,” Levy continued.
“I noticed,” Sarah commented.
“As we were traveling, Yellow showed me the scrolls one night. They indicated that the power would only last ‘for a season’. Normally that’s just a phrase for ‘a short time’. But I think it’s literal. Next growing season Pudlong will not be able to grow anything anymore, except normally, that is.”
“What will happen to Pudlong?” asked Sarah.
“Oh, he’ll go back to being a regular peasant. Or not. Who knows. Farley may set him up as an advisor or something. The gold leaf will wear off the bean eventually anyway. Maybe Farley will just assume the bean is wearing out.”
“But what about Mon-Haddar? He *is* a wizard. What if he figures out how to make the bean do it again?” asked Yellow.
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Levy replied. “I don’t think he’s going to be able to use the bean to cause anyone any trouble, except maybe himself.”
The air wasn’t quite as cold for the novice as the snow lying on the ground outside, but nonetheless the hair on her skin stood on end as she carried the scroll carefully to her master’s chamber. It was more fear than chill that inspired this, however. It was uncomfortable to walk into the master’s chamber, alone and unprotected, but even a full suit of mail would have been little protection from that man’s baleful glare. The novice shuddered as she pushed open the thick door and stepped inside. The air was warmer there, thick with the strange scent of growing things. It was not a friendly warmth, however, and the novice shivered yet again.
“Finally!” The master’s voice emerged from behind a screen as a hand extended to snatch the scroll from the young woman’s hands. “You’re sure it’s the right one?”
“It — it has the words you told me to look for, master,” the novice replied, her eyes fixed on the outstretched arm. “M-may I go back to bed now, o-or at least dress and eat?”
“Dress and eat, yes, but come right back when you’re through — I may yet need you for something.”
The novice nodded and hurried out the door, shaking. She wasn’t shaking from the cold though, but from what she had seen. After she left the master stepped out from behind the screen. His stiff, shaking hands unrolled the scroll. He reached a hand up to brush away the leaves that grew from his green hair. As he did the bark on the back of his hand left parallel scratches in the skin of his forehead. He tried twice to sit down, but his unyielding joints would not cooperate. Finally in frustration an oath escaped his lips.