Do You Believe In Magic?
This valley is a likely spot. Pretty, isolated, unchanged. My task is getting harder these days, I can’t operate in the cities or ports at all any more, folk in those spots have got too worldly and suspicious. I need a place where they still believe in magic. Like this valley.
It’s a small village – I only realised it was here when I saw wisps of smoke curling above the trees. I’ve been watching for two days, quietly at ease under a shelter of trees on the hill’s flank, finishing my supply of bread and cheese, working out the best way to replenish.
There must be a market town on the other side of the hills as I have observed villagers carting vegetables and the odd bit of livestock away onto the horizon. It didn’t take long to identify the richest of the peasants. Mostly they live in cottages, disgraceful shacks, but this man has quite a fine stone dwelling – it is not large, but it is well put together and he keeps it very neat. He some grazing land at the back too and a small head of cattle. Unlike the dirt poor around him, this man may have something to spare for a little whim, to indulge a primitive belief in magic.
He rises early and I stroll past his cottage in a devil-may-care fashion, complimenting him on his pretty garden. He is sour-faced, which I had not bargained for – this will be harder than I had thought. “What is the point of a pretty garden if your wife’s gone and died and left you with four children?” he snarls at me, as a girl of three or four runs out and begs to be picked up. “Tell me that, pedlar.”
I give him a warm smile. “Perhaps a little something to make the girl laugh?” I hold out my hand and show him my palm. He knocks my hand towards the floor and they scatter at his feet. He tells me in the rudest terms to leave him alone and goes inside.
This leaves me scrabbling in the dirt to collect them all and cursing that my best hope here has gone. It’s greatly disappointing and now I’ll have to get to the other side of those hills and to the next settlement before nightfall; there is no time to waste.
I cannot deny that there is less of a spring in my step and more of a trudge. As I leave the godforsaken village, I spy a young lad ahead of me, making his way slowly in the dust towards the hills, dragging a reluctant cow behind him. The cow is thin and old, its ribs showing through the hide. It is not what I had hoped for, but better than nothing.
I catch him up. “Good day, young sir,” I doff my cap and we exchange introductions. “Are you headed to market?” He looks up at me through a scruffy fringe, taking in my scars warily, and answers, “Yes. Mother is sending me to sell this cow. It is a long journey though, I will need new shoes at the end of it. And it looks like rain,” he adds, looking up at the sky, dolefully.
Here is perhaps an opening, a way to rid myself of a bit more of this burden I carry everywhere with me. I must trick him, just as I was tricked, all those years ago. “Perhaps you might allow me to take her off your hands? For an exchange, of course”.
The boy perks up immediately. “Exchange for what?”
“These.” I hold out my palm again.
“A few beans? Mother would flay me.” He turns, disconsolate, and walks on.
“They are not any old beans, young sir. They are magic beans.” He pauses. I knew that magic would still hold a shining lure in this valley. “Plant them and you will see. Untold adventures, untold wealth…your mother’s head will spin with pride.” He hesitates but I have got him. He takes the beans, I pull on the cow’s ear and she follows me, a good, docile beast. I hear the boy begin to walk back to the village.
I shall pass this way again soon perhaps. I expect I shall find the usual scene: a wrecked village lying empty but for the carcasses of livestock, giant footprints in the dust and the remnants of a rotting beanstalk. But perhaps the boy Jack will surprise me.