The men heard this rhyme and understood and each vowed that he would leave the kingdom before he ever again bowed to the duke. They left the trees as they had fallen, whole and green, unwilling to take part in dismemberment of those perfect trees. They picked up their bundles, and walked away towards home and the villagers instead came along and chopped the trees into sticks to burn in their stoves.
The men gave the peaches away, to mothers and daughters and sisters and lovers. To their wives and the wives of friends. They left none for themselves, but to a man gave away all the peaches. Only one ever had a bite, when his wife, smiling and with juice running down her chin held it out for him to share, and with that taste he saw her dreams and wishes and hopes and desires, the essence of her and thought, “Why, she’s just like me?” It was a surprise, and one he never forgot. Years later their love would be legend, as a tale of romance and requitement, of long standing joy and respect, and of adventure as they crossed many hardships to be together after the wars came. They are their own story.
But even the men who did not taste the peaches were forever changed. You would know their names if I told you, because they are famous and their successes are often told. One travelled with the Princess Henrietta when she led the raid and slew the monsters in the caverns. She knighted him for his bravery and boldness in battle and gave him her dagger, which has been passed down to the first born of his descendents for these hundreds of years and now resides with his great-great-great-great-great grandson, who will soon give it to his firstborn, a daughter. Another is the poet who wrote of buttercups and water lilies and whose poems of love and loss you recite to yourself whenever your heart is broken. A third became a judge known for being fair. In his time, no witches were burned. A fourth became a doctor, who was known to be as safe and adept as a midwife at birthing babies.
The women who ate the peaches, you know of them too. Princess Henrietta was one. Juliana the Just was another. Maxine the builder whose bridges still stand, and of course, Pauline the painter whose frescoes are the pride of the nation. Others did not become famous or renowned, but all led cheerful and lucky lives into their old age, matriarchs, whose families who truly mourned them when they died. They were the peach girls, and their smallest deeds are still felt in each and every breath in this city.
But at that time this was still a town, surrounded by farm land and orchards. The men went their ways and told no one of the children and the rhyme.
That evening the duke sat down to dinner, racks of lamb and roasted potatoes and raspberry tart for dessert. He lifted his spoon over the first course, a leek and cream soup that was the specialty of the cook, dipped it into his bowl, brought it to his mouth, and then gagged. He spit and out came a bite of rotten peach with a white worm ducking out of the light and back into its hole. He raged and demanded to know what the meaning of it was. But no one knew. The cook begged his sir’s pardon, but he had put no peaches into the evening dinner. None at all.
The duke, not very mollified, but hungry enough to go on with his dinner, cut himself a piece of lamb, brown and red with blood puddling beneath the meat. He brought a bite to his mouth, smelling the char and the spices. Then he gagged on rotten peach. This time he did not call for the cook, nor yell at the staff. He knew it was that temptress who sold fruit at the side of the road. The one who had seduced him, lowering her head and curtseying day after day as he passed. She looked demure to all, but he knew better, she was a sorceress and a seductress and she had reeled him in to curse him.
The duke threw his napkin down and left the table, with servants and family members trailing behind him in shock and fear for what he might do if they caught his glance now, in an angry mood. He called for his man again but his man did not come. He had left with the workers at the trees, and though he had too much pride to remove his shirt as the men had, he still carried peaches in his pockets and never saw the duke again. The duke had to find someone else to give orders to, but this was easily done. He gave orders to find the girl and arrest her for being a temptress and a witch.
What of Peaches, the girl who sold fruit and planted the trees? Where was she in all of this? What was she thinking and how was she healing after having been used and discarded? No one knows. Like her name, there is no record of her thoughts or doings or if she ate peas and drank punch. Her story is forgotten, if anyone ever knew it in the first place. No one asked or wondered. She has served her purpose and now the only concern is how justice gets served and for that this girl with no name need hardly be there at all. We shall assume that she washed herself as soon as she could, tried to not wake anyone up as she cried at night, and kept silent. If she thought or did anything more than curtsey as the duke rode by on those days, we do not know it. She has her purpose in the story, just as she had her purpose for the duke. So we’ll leave her to her silence and punch and peas, not knowing that the duke had called for her arrest, the judge has been routed from his dinner table and the constable is coming with chains and iron.