When Jorik still ruled at Havnar, the father of Elden died, so Elden and his wife took possession of his father’s land. The farmer looked across all the fields of his domain, and marvelled, but worried also that his crops would not be safe.
Now the farmer’s wife was a cunning matron, so thus she spake, “Go; make for yourself a scarecrow and dedicate him before the priests, that your fields might be protected and their produce spared.”
So he ventured forth in search of material. A plough broken for arms, birdcage for a chest, blunted sickles in place of hands. For legs he stripped the limbs of a cemetery yew, clothes procured from a dead man hanging. All this crowned with a prize pumpkin, face carved by his loving wife.
All these he set before the priests. Yet one observed, “see, there is no heart”, so an ember was added to the offering. Taking their last goat, the priests made sacrifice, singing prayers over the parts as they danced around the alter. And behold, the parts were granted life, the ember never dying.
Elden returned and bound together his scarecrow. And lo, when finished, did he not set it upon a pole? Or grant the pumpkin as king over the whole? So the scarecrow was set to guard over the fields.
The holiday of harvest thanksgiving approached. Being devout, retaining still some youth, the farmer left on pilgrimage. For his master did the scarecrow pine, wishing to follow and see the world beyond; but the pumpkin refused him. An argument broke, the body revolting, beheading itself the pumpkin, which it set upon the pole.
So the scarecrow vacated its fields. However, farmer long departed, unknowing of the way, the scarecrow soon became lost. Two days did it wander, by day and by night — for it never tired — until straying upon the town of Galdean by the early light.
And the people, they did panic! Women cried for their bairns as maidens after mothers feared, men running as cowards this way and that. Yet by surprise they overcame him, the brave men of the town; though barely, their frames scarcely grander than his own.
Restrained, the brave men brought him to a cage, casting him inside, a disconcerting rattle as he rolled across the floor. From toe to torso his incarceration he did question but, mute, received no answer. Questioning to watching turned, fascination by homesickness replaced, as the anger he noted changed instead to fear. A week passed, or more, and watching to lamentation turned, scarecrow scarcely stirring. No longer did he note the will of the people, that as his will was slowly crushed their horror and memory subsided.
In those times the king was harsh, a heavy burden set upon his people. He sent unworthy fellows throughout his land collecting tribute from every place, every man extorted of his living.
So it was that men came upon Galdean late one day. But the townsfolk were poor, as their harvest. “Let me repeat,” the scarecrow heard at the scream of another man, “in the name of the king, your tribute!”
“Then name him!”
The chuckle was cruel as pain escalated to quick release, something severed; yet the scarecrow lacked honest understanding. Not till men were brought to the cell, battered, bleeding, a stink of liquid metal, trails left in their wake. The cell door opened with a screech, men thrown within the empty cage.
Except only then did the scarecrow spring to life, to feet jumping, then bounding out the cell. As the other ran, he caught the one on the floor, sickles buried, through flesh then torn. In agony the man screamed until pain ceased, screams also. Townsmen left cowering, the other was chased, shouting breathless warnings as he ran. As crying ceased, struck down from behind, their remnants looked in fear and ran.
“There’ll be more,” a voice came, offering a sword, but the scarecrow offered his hands. “Come.”
He was led, by hand, to a blacksmith’s forge. “Sharpen yourself for the coming battle, that we might all be spared.” So the scarecrow sat, dull blades sharpened in the flames.
By still of night the men returned, far stronger than before, with torches and dogs in tow. And before them one scarecrow, set without a head. As one they rushed upon him, sickles slicing through their flesh; like a demonic marionette he twirled, blades dancing about him. Much blood was spilt as through leather, cloth, and flesh he cut, men lying broken with their throats split, their own dogs feasting on their fat in the street.
But their numbers were no match and, too much, the scarecrow they overpowered. Toppled, the cage broke, crushed by their force, ember rolling out across the ground before limbs were severed, ties broken, the scarecrow pulled apart.
The unworthy men rejoiced amidst their victory, no tear shed for their fallen. Orders swift were given to steal all their worth, the people given to slaughter, their town offered up in flame.
Then the ember moved.
No time to react, each severed part acted on its own, each member still joined as a collective; a republic without a crown. Plough blades, once shoulders, parted legs, not soil, as sickles sought for soft flesh to plant; other fragments stabbed and herded till together the group were gathered, fighting all sides in a defensive huddle.
Then the ember jumped, then skipped; it began to roll.
Tumbling toward the group of unworthy men, it slipped its way inside. Flaring bright and fiercely, it crawled up limbs, across backs, within clothes, till the stench of searing filled the sky. They were offered up as a pyre, scarecrow so too consumed, townsfolk fleeing at the sounds of their screams.
The flames died only with the rain, ember dying there also. The square left a jumble of corpses entwined, its residence saved; no corpse of the scarecrow they found remained.
Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Randomly Chosen Words at Chuck Wendig‘s site, Terrible Minds. The challenge: 1,000 words using three randomly chosen words. My story is 992 words using scarecrow, republic and holiday.