So, this is entirely @mbennardo’s fault. LET IT BE KNOWN.
On a hill overlooking the Camsted valley stands a man, six feet tall, broad-shouldered, hands with short, stubby fingers and square palms. Earth hands, his Mam had called them. Stone hands they also got called, by anyone unlucky enough to mistake soft-spoken for weak after a night of drinking.
Utar the Radish Farmer leans on his hoe, watching black clouds of crows swirl above the valley. He leans back his head and whistles piercingly through the generous gap between his front teeth, a special combination of tones and trills that some might call magic, but he just calls sense.
One black dot breaks away from the cloud and spirals through the air toward him. Utar waits patiently, squinting against the cheery yellow sunlight of the afternoon. A few minutes later, a crow lands on the handle in a flurry of wings, balanced on one foot. Utar tilts his head back, squints against the feathers until she’s gotten settled.
He knows this crow. She has a set of golden dots on top of her head, like the beauty marks of a lady. They’ve talked before. “Good day, Lady Crow.” He’s also heard this called magic, being able to talk to birds. Seems like more good sense to him.
She clacks her beak. “Very good for us, Utar.”
Utar tilts his chin toward the valley. “There a battle on?”
“Have you ever known anything else to draw us in such numbers?”
“Nay, ’tis true. What’s the chance the lines might move this way a mite more?”
She inspects him with one black, sparkling eye. “There’s a soothsayer on the side of the man in red. We could trick him in to it easily enough.” Then she turns her head to inspect him with the other eye. “For the normal price.”
Utar nods slowly. “Agreed.” Man in red probably means the Duke; he’s always sounded like the superstitious sort.
The crow takes off and Utar heads back down the hills of his radish farm. “Mattie,” he calls to his wife, “get the girls. Battle’ll be coming this way soon.”
Mattie throws down the lump of dough she’s been working and gives him an annoyed look. “I’m in the middle of baking.”
“The high and mighty don’t consult with the likes of us.” He smiles, catches her by the waist, nuzzles her neck with a stubbly chin until she shrieks and gives him a playful slap. “Get the girls. We’ll be wanting to bury anything we can’t carry.”
“Aye. But if they burn my house down again, the next one better have an extra bedroom. And a bigger kitchen.”
He nods slowly. “Agreed.”
By nightfall, they hear the drums of the marching armies, but they’re already cleared out, up a hill and into their neighbor’s fields, backs bent under bundles of clothes and cooking pots, with a basket of winterberries as a peace offering for letting them stay a few nights.
Three days later the crow with golden spots finds Utar again. She’s flying heavy and drunk, gorged with carrion. Utar has to steady her with his fingers when she lands on the haft of his ax; he’s been helping out with the firewood.
“Battle done, Lady Crow?”
She belches in the least ladylike way imaginable. “And a big one at that.”
“My thanks. I’ll get the sweet red corn for you this year, my word on it.”
“It strikes me, Utar. You never ask us who won.” The crow lets out a croaking laugh, interrupted by another belch.
“Aye.” He shoos her away and calls for Mattie to get the girls, finish breakfast, get ready to go home. He doesn’t even wait for goodbyes; he spikes the ax into the nearby stump and heads back over the hill.
Utar only spares the briefest of looks for the smoldering ruin of his house. He collects his hoe from its hiding place and wades into his fields, feet sticking in the churned up battlefield muck, more blood than dirt. The scent of decay coats the back of his throat, but he’s used to it by now. Humming a working song, he sets to hoeing the blood, the burned cloth and charred wood, the hacked-up flesh and bone into his fields.
It doesn’t matter to him, who has won or lost. All he cares about is the good earth and its feeding, the way the soil drinks in death and turns rich and black with life. What he gives to his fields, they return ten fold in the best radishes in the fief.
And if it makes him smile, sometimes, to think that noble kitchens seek out his produce and feed their new crop of warriors on their previous crop of warriors, well.
He’s just a radish farmer, simple folk. What does he know.