As the companions continued on through the woods, they found the trees grew closer together. At times, so much sun was blocked out that it appeared almost twilight. The deer path was just wide enough for the horses to pass through with branches tickling their sides. From all around them, they heard the sound of croaking frogs and chirping crickets.
Elie: I think Mandalar still had his shield out front, just in case.
Suddenly and without warning, they found themselves in a wide open clearing. The unexpected bright sunshine blinded them momentarily. When they could see again, the four perceived a pair of men in the middle of the field. One was shouting at the other, waving a finger close to his face. The other stood with his arms crossed, frowning and not speaking. When the men saw the four riders, they both turned away from the other and stomped off to different sides of the field.
Me: What did Sarai do?
Elie: She wanted to talk to them and try to help them.
Me: Who did she go talk to first? The man who was shouting or the one who was silent?
Elie: The shouting man.
Sarai dismounted and walked her horse over to the first man. "What's going on here?" she asked.
"This here field? It's just perfect for planting a year's worth of wheat for me to grow and live on," he answered, scowling across the open air at the other man. "I hate the big cities and towns so came out for a walk through the woods. When I wound up here, I just loved it. I've spent several days building a cabin just over that way and now when I come and look back at the field to figure out how to start tilling it, I find him here and he just won't leave! Says he wants to use my field, too, but I just can't for the life of me figure out what for."
Sarai nodded and looked back over her shoulder. "Perhaps I could talk to him and find out?"
"You go right ahead if you want to waste your time," the man sneered. "Just see if you can get him to leave, would you? And then you all can get off my field too."
Sarai almost smiled at the man's determination. This one might not be easy, she thought, but it's still worth trying.
When she walked up to the other man, he looked at her silently. His face was a mask of disinterest, his thoughts lost elsewhere.
"Excuse me, please?" she started timidly. "Can you tell me about why you're here in this field."
A brief silence followed, and then the man shook his head as though startled by a fly. "Why, I'm sorry. I was lost in though," he answered. "Certainly happy to tell you. You see, I've been working on a new way of self defense - one that uses just your hands and feel, knees and elbows, and all the like. No weapons at all, you see? Just a way to redirect the force coming at you with minimum effort. I had so much trouble concentrating in the bustle of the town that I wanted to come out here to practice what I was working on. And this field is peaceful, quiet, and large enough that I have plenty of room for tumbling and rolling."
Me: What did Sarai want to do or say?
Elie: Maybe each of them could work together and build a fence through the middle of the clearing? Then one could plant food on one side and the other could practice on the other!
"Interesting - I'd be happy to just use half the field," replied the second man.
Sarai went back to the farmer to ask him, but he was much less receptive. "I need the whole field or I won't have enough food to last the year!" he shouted. "Tell him to just go find a different field and then get out of here."
The second man had walked up as well. "If we can't share it all the time, maybe we can share it by the time of year?" he asked. "You only plant your grain in the spring and harvest it in the fall, right? Well, then when it's not growing I can practice all winter. The rest of the time I can do other kinds of practicing out in the woods where it's dense, as it might be if I'm attacked."
As he spoke, he demonstrated some of his strikes and kicks. The farmer's eyes lit up. "Say, I haven't got a good scythe yet, but the way you're moving your hands and feet looks very similar to the motion you'd need... Do you think you could help me harvest the grain when it was time? If so, we've got us a deal."
The two agreed and went off talking quietly.
Tiana came up and said...
Elie: I want to say what Tiana said - you can do Mandalar and Alatar.
Me: Oh - okay. Well, she'd finally figured out about the key with a little help from the fairies peeking in to give her hints. While Sarai had been talking, she got the key worked out. What did she say?
Elie: I've got the key!
Sarai, Alatar, and Mandalar rushed over, bringing the treasure chest with them. Tiana put the key in the lock. It fit, but didn't quite turn. She slipped one of her thin lock picking tools in along the top and adjusted the pins slowly and carefully. The key started to wiggle as she worked. A moment later, she was able to turn it freely in the lock. The lid popped up, now loose from the lock.
Inside, they found a few slightly muddy instruments. Unlike the small box, the treasure chest wasn't water tight and some of the sea water and sand had gotten inside. Still, it had dried out after so many days in the air. What they took out was a metal scale with two small, curved plates hanging on chains, not quite in balance with the lumps of sand on the plates. There was also a telescope and a microscope, each with carefully crafted glass. A magnifying glass followed those. Then, toward one side, they also found a helmet that looked just a little large for Sarai.
Me: There was one other thing, too. What was it?
Elie: Another shield in case something happens to Mandalar's.
The other shield was a bit smaller, so they agreed it could be for Sarai in the meantime. It had no straps any longer, these having long since rotted away, but they were able to fix it up with some new ones. The helmet they lined with a bit of soft fleece and then it fit Sarai perfectly.
Looking at the rest of the instruments, they puzzled why this was such an important case.
"I've got it!" Sarai exclaimed. "The ruler of the whole country has to measure and balance things. Look at all angles, from the biggest to the smallest. Then, after understanding it all, come up with an answer they can defend with facts."
The others nodded. "That sounds like the kind of leader the people would gladly follow," Alatar beamed.
Part of the "There Once Was a Kingdom" bedtime stories series.