It began with five beans.
Of course, it had to be five. Five is a magical number, or more to the point, it has various significances which are relevant to the subsequent events I shall relate, and to myself. In the fortune cards that old Mahr the wise-woman consults, the number five is associated with change, upheaval, an expanding of circumstances and horizons. Often the change is coming out of difficult circumstances, and striving towards something new. You might say that five has an adventurous spirit, wanting to travel and seek out new experiences. Which may be good, bad, happy, painful, but that’s the nature of progress through life. Five definitely lacks the proportion and solidity of four - Old Mahr often says, as she deals out her well-worn cards with stained fingers, “Four’s a bore, five’s alive”. Five is also associated with the heavenly body Mercury, restless, articulate, quick-witted, tricky. That’s me to a pumpkin. But it is also irresponsible, thoughtless, selfish, easily bored. Oh dear, me again. That pesky number seemed to know who I was, and broadcast it to all. At least I wasn’t a boring four (“he’s just so reliable”).
So it could have been any number of beans, but it wasn’t. It certainly wouldn’t be four - as the saying goes:
Sow four beans in a row
One for cowscot and one for crow
One to rot and one to grow
And for that matter, it could have been any type of seed, but it had to be bean seeds. Not because they are a staple of the villagers diet (which they are of course), but for what they represented. The old riddle says “how many beans makes five”, to which the answer – two beans, a bean and a half, a bean, and half a bean – demonstrates a man’s sagacity and wisdom. O yes, me again… well, not immediately.
The seeds sat like little green gems in my hand, living fertile emeralds. Old Mahr says that every star has its own special gem, and, what do you know, Mercury’s is emerald. I don’t understand why, but there you go, wheels within circles, circles within wheels. You find out one thing, and lo and behold its also something else. What’s more, according to her an emerald should be left in cows milk overnight before wearing - a useless piece of information for poor villagers like ourselves, who would never see a gem in our lifetime. But knowledge is the first step to wisdom they say – does that work in reverse? Can an ignorant man be wise? Its probably an irrelevant question - at the time I was holding the beans in my hand, staring bemusedly at them, I had neither knowledge nor wisdom.
This is the beginning then, me standing in the middle of the road with five beans in one hand, the rope of a cow in the other, in front of me a strange-looking fellow offering me the deal of my life.
My name is Jack – I have many tales, but one story.
“So… what do you say? These magic beans for your cow. I swear you won’t regret it.”
The man speaking to me was tall, lanky, older, with a curious assortment of clothes and colours garbed about him. He had no pack, nor animal, or even a staff to assist him in his travel. He had been lounging by the side of the road, under a tree, as if expecting me. He had introduced himself, courteously enough, and offered to buy the cow I was taking to market, but not for money. Five beans, he was offering me, that he said were magic, though he didn’t explain how so, or what they did. He had smiled and placed them in my hand, as if he knew I would not be returning them. I didn’t realise it at the time (did I mention I was young and foolish at this point?) , but of course that’s the first trick of selling – get the buyer to establish a connection with the item being sold, make him feel something for the item.
But this were just beans, hard to feel any emotion for something I had eaten nearly every day of my life. I had a cunning idea though.
“Prove that they are magic” I said. There, that showed him that I was not a simpleton, to be easily won over.
“I can’t do that.” he said, “They will only work for you. You do understand how magic works, don’t you? Have you a wise-woman in your village? Someone who does simple magics? Healing?”
“Well, there’s old Mahr” I said. “But I can’t say she’s magic as such. She just knows things, and can do certain things.”
“Exactly!” said the man, “She does things no-one else in your village can do, and no-one knows how. That’s magic, my boy. Her magic. If some-one else tried it , it just wouldn’t work. Now these beans have your name on them, that’s why I have been waiting for you. They’re no good to me, or anyone else, they will only work for you.”
“But what do they do? We already have plenty of bean plants”
“They will bring you your heart’s desire. Whatever it is. What do you want Jack? The beans can give it to you. I can’t tell you how, because I don’t know your desires, do I? They are your secret. Your special, secret wants. Mysterious. Just like these beans. Here’s what to do. Plant them tonight, it will be a moonlit night. And you must plant them, not in a row, but in a group like this” and he arranged the seeds on my hand, four in a neat square and the fifth in the centre of the four. “And after you plant them, whisper your desires over them. Just like your Mahr whispers secret words over herbs and potions. She does, doesn’t she?”
Well he was dead right, that’s what she did. Second rule of selling, get the customer to say yes to something, anything, because one yes leads to another, then another, and before you know it:
“All right then. It’s a deal. “ I handed over the rope of the cow, carefully pocketed the beans, and turned for home. I have told this story often, and it always seems to elicit gasps of amazement at this point at my complete naiveté and gullibility
It wasn’t till I was almost home that I suddenly wondered how he had known my name….