The meek and mousy little man wore wire-rimmed glasses, a rarity outside the largest cities. His hair was the color of ripe wheat, with touches of gray. His eyes, perpetually darting hither and yon like a rabbit seeking predators, were sunken into his skull and surrounded with crow’s feet. He would not be given a second glance among the hard-living farmers of the Chiridon Valley.

I’d been with the caravan for three months. It had been the best time of my life.

The carriage’s wheels were creating a hypnotic rhythm. Dame Thanda Lainsborough felt herself drifting out of awareness. That was dangerous, she reminded herself. Still, it was nostalgic. This was the same route she’d first taken after her marriage. That had been spring and this was fall, of course, but the trees were the same, the distant snow-capped mountains were the same, and even the approaching manor house was the same.

The Green Man was a welcome sight to the people of Crosswind Plateau. He would come and go as he pleased, staying long enough to swap stories, sell seeds, and dispense invariably accurate advice on the growing of crops or the tending of illnesses. His leather knapsack was packed full of all manner of strange things: exotic herbs flattened with care into paper packages, glass retorts full of faintly luminous liquids, a leather-bound tome marked with a curious foreign symbol, a small rectangular object tough as rock but flexible like a tree branch. Even when he would smack a child’s hand away before it touched some of the more dangerous contents, there was never malice.