The First Fruits of Your Harvest

It wasn’t a big town but it was large enough that it had crime and a rudimentary police force, about halfway between private bodyguards and an actual civic militia, and no tradition either of detection or judiciary. There were no mysteries, but there were few vendettas, either. There were only two punishments for anyone taken in a crime, whipping or hanging. Ten strokes for minor offenses, brawling, slander, trespass, twenty for more serious ones, theft, forgery, extortion, and hanging for all major crimes, rape or murder, mostly.

The hangings all took place in what had been the old communal orchards before privatization had redirected their agriculture. Those so condemned were left suspended until the end of the year, after the harvest was in. The orchards became home to hundreds of large glossy crows, who made the surrounding woods echo and reecho with their squawking, and whose flight it was considered unlucky to witness of an evening.

In late autumn the harvesters were selected by a lottery of all adult men. Those so selected were exempt for seven years from another lottery. After the fields had been finished, they moved through the orchards, their clothes inside out to bewilder vengeful spirits, and bore the condemned to a mass grave on the eastern edge of the woods. The crows there were the largest and the glossiest, the trees there bore the ripest and most tempting fruit.