Snow fell in bursts, blown down from the heavens by a wind intent on piercing through even the thickest of winter garments. The town gate, usually seen from atop the farthest part of Travellers pass, was obscured in white. Piper stopped trudging and held a hand up, the falling snow causing it to vanish at an arm's length. Yet, despite the wind and snow, the bitter cold and all the trappings of deep winter, there was a serene quality to the day. All sounds were muffled in the deep white, and the landscapes many rugged obscenities were covered up with sheets of snow. Not the cleansing of a thunderstorm, but at least giving an illusion of purity.
"Such is life," Piper sighed and he walked on into the town.
"Please Sir, my mama is sick, we need some small amount for food.... please Sir..."
"The winter... the guards took all we had..."
Piper passed by them quietly, tiredly. The children and widows sat pleading at first and then spitting and condemning. It was their way, a nature inside themselves that could not be broken; the way of the begger. Having what little they earned taken from them for tax filled them with spite, not ambition to strive for more. It was a cycle that the current merchant lord of the town could break, except for greed and lack of any good intentions. So the snow fell and heaped on their slumped shoulders, covering them but not purifying.
Piper sighed and slowed his walk. A large man sat shivering by himself, holes in his wool mittens.
"Please Sir, the crops... the Master took what the drought didn't. Please Sir, I have family... anything helps... anything at all..."
"Do you have anything to trade?" Piper asked the man.
"I have... nothing..."
"I can not give you charity, it must be a trade. There is nothing that I can give you that will help past this day, but you may be able to give me something to help yourself. Tell me, what is in the sack, the one that hangs from your belt?"
"Please Sir, only next year's seed. I keep it on me for fear of theft, these are hard times. I can't trade it, I can't."
"Is that so? You still grasp onto hope for a better year... I think there is a way that we can both be warmed this day." Piper said, "you see, I am looking for the good in this world. I have been cursed with a name, a name that brings upon me grief and trouble. I travel to find my faith again, my faith that things are not as bad as they seem. Trust me, good Sir, and I promise that you will be rewarded in full. I will trade your seeds for a song."
The man stared at Piper, his haggard face one that had seen too many promises broken to be naive. He had lost everything, his family depended on a bag of seeds tied to his belt. Yet there was something in this strange man's eyes, something that spoke of kinship and hardship and, above all else, an endurance that had allowed him to rise above all that had happened. The man had felt great sorrow, yes, and yet he remained. There was something in him that was worth trusting.
Hesitantly, the old farmer reached for the bag, then stopped.
"A song?" He stated flatly, "this is my future, all of it. What am I going to do with a song?"
"You'd be surprised," Piper said, "it is a very, very good song." Still there was that sorrow in his voice and honesty unburdoned by even a trace of a lie. For an instant the farmer beleived him, beleived that all he really did need was a song, a good song, and his life would be put back to order. He handed over the seeds.
"You have kindled something in my heart, you have nothing and yet you gave it on the word of a stranger for nothing more than a song. You trusted me."
"But you said... you said I would be paid in full?"
"And so you shall, so shall you all!" Piper spilled the bag on the snowy ground to the protest of the farmer. From the inner pockets of his long jacket he produced a long pipe and, upon wetting the wood with his tongue, began to play.
The first note was like the dawning of spring, a warm gust of sound that stirred hope inside the old farmer. More followed, and the blizzard hesitated, trying to decide if it was correct in blowing snow into a place where such a song existed. More notes came, and they layered impossibly so it sounded like more than just one man playing the flute, but choirs of beautiful singers creating a music beyond imagination. Slowly the song progressed from the earliest of spring moments into a time when the plants would bud and the new seeds would put down their roots.
The peasants and beggers came, drawn out of their misery to the music and, upon gazing at Piper, they could not beleive their eyes. Snow blew around him, but did not touch him. The air had grown warm, not a lull in the storm but an absolute absence of it. The song had brought spring to that place in the town, the snow had melted away and, before the unbeleiving eyes of the villagers, the seeds spilt on the earth had began to sprout.
Sprouts of grain threw down their roots and grew tall and lush in that moment of spring. The music turned to a summer rain and the plants were nourished. As the beggers watched, more people came, merchants and business men and guards from their posts at the wall. They saw the grain stalks grow into a sheaf, and thicken, twisting themselves around each other until the stalks were like the truck of a tree. The magic of the song made the grain grow taller, far taller then any normal grain, with golden branches and silver leaves, spreading out over the heads of the crowd. A dark fruit hung heavy on the branches, dipping them low.
Piper's fingers slowed on the pipe, the music wound down until the chorus had left and it was just him playing, a simple traveler and a pipe. And then the music was gone, the crowd left blinking in the special silence of after music and winter storm. For a moment they almost beleived it hadn't happened, but there the tree stood, untouched by the storm and heavy with food. A guard pushed past the crowd.
"I claim this tree in the name of the Lord Merchant!" He exclaimed and moved forward to grab the produce. His hand stopped inches from any branches and though he strained he could not force his hand closer. Cursing he drew his sword and swung hard, the blade stopping short with enough force to jar the man backwards.
"What manner of magic is this?"
"Its a beggers tree, it only feeds those that need it, those that deserve it." Piper said. He put the pipe back into the folds of his coat and picked a fruit off the tree. The farmer stepped up and reached his hand forward, picking a fruit and gingerly trying it. His face brightened.
"Its good!" He yelled, and threw his head back laughing, "come and try it! It is good!"
The beggers came and the peasants came. Any who were deserving ate their fill and there was still more. Those undeserving could not reach the tree, and the fruit they stole turned to ashe in their mouths. The beggers of the street rejoiced, singing praise to the myseterios stranger and exclaiming to those that had just arrived the miracle they had witnessed.
"He played a song, thats it! And the tree grew where the storm parted!"
"You're daft! That was more than a song, that was powerful magic, of the likes I've not seen, nor heard!"
"It was a miracle! A miracle! Where is he? Thanks to you stranger, where is he?"
The people looked but Piper had left, moving on like gust of wind in the storm. Looking back from the road on the town and hearing the noise he smiled. Slowly he tugged off the glove that covered his hand and gazed at the glowing marks there. Two of the sun's beams were glowing.