Mountain Village of Tosca - Once you have slept at the Inn in Tosca talk to the man near the village entrance to unlock this dream.
There is no way to keep the village from becoming a battlefield.
The enemy forces have crossed the northern pass and made their camp close by.
The home forces are here, too, sending one unit after another into the village to resist the enemy's attack.
The place is a powder keg.
Ringed by mountains where two highways intersect, the village is a crucial focal point for transport.
It cannot be allowed to fall into enemy hands, while its capture is essential to any hopes the enemy might have for victory in the war. Long years of fighting have come down to this one major battle.
It is a battle that must be waged.
The logic is clear, simple, inevitable. And it will transform this tranquil village into a battlefield at any moment.
The army has ordered the villagers to evacuate.
Noncombatants can only get in the way.
"The enemy wants to settle this before the weather turns cold,"
"So, what does that mean? Another month? Two weeks?"
"Got your stuff packed? No sense getting caught in the middle and killed. Talk about dying for nothing!"
"Better forget about taking any pots and pans with you. Pack as light as you can and get away as far as you can."
"Think of all the generations our ancestors guarded our houses and land. I hate to think it's going to turn into a wasteland when the fighting starts..."
"There's nothing we can do about it, it's just plain bad luck, that's all."
"We just have to hang in there till the war is over and come back when we find out who won."
"The main thing is to get out now."
"Right, it's all we can do."
"We've got to stay alive. Better not hope for anything more than that."
"Why the hell does this have to happen to us?"
The villagers leave a few at a time, beginning with the first ones to find temporary shelter.
By the time the forest is lightly tinged with red, the village is practically deserted.
The only ones left are old folks who live alond and have no one and no place to run to.
The army has built a crude refugee camp for any evacuees able to cross several mountains to reach it. The aged poor stagger in with little more than clothes on their back.
The only one left in the village is Grandma Coto.
As a mercenary, Kaim first met old Coto shortly after he joined the unit protecting the village.
He was on an inspection round at the time when he spotted an old woman working in the fields. She turned out to be Grandma Coto.
A soldier with him yelled at her, "Hey, old lady, enough of that!"
Another man shouted, "You'd beter get out of here now if you want to stay alive. The fight's going to start in two or three days. How many times do we have to tell you to go to the damn refugee camp?!"
But old Coto stayed hunched over, digging in the dirt.
Obviously, she was not harvesting anything.
If this had been a time when the grain had ripened and she was hurrying to harvest her crops, it might have made sense, but she was just turning te soil as if she had forgotten that a battle was about to start here at any moment.
"Is the old bag deaf? Or just senile?"
With a disgusted look, the captain caled over to Kaim, "Hey, new guy! Do something about this one! Drag her to the refugee camp if you have to tie a rope around her neck! We can't have her wandering around out here. She's just going to get in the way whenthe fighting starts."
The captain's tone was arrogant.
The more cowardly a commanding officer is, the more arrogant and overbearing his style becomes--and the less he is able to conceal his nervousness--when a battle is nearing.
Kaim strode silently toward the old woman in the field.
"Well go on ahead!" the captain called out behind him, but he did not turn around.
Only a few days would be needed to decide the outcome of the battle for the village, which was a reflection of how violent it promised to be.
For this reason, working in the fields now was pointless. Even the most carefully cultivated patch of ground would be crushed under the soldiers' boots. A harvest next year was out of the question. Nor was it even clear how many years it would take to restore the village to its former tranquility.
When Kaim approached her in the field, the old woman kept working and said,
"Don't try to stop me!"
She looked--and sounded--much tougher than she seemed from a distance. She might have been one of those stubborn, cranky old folks that people kept their distance from when the village was at peace.
"You're not going to evacuate?" Kaim asked.
"What the hell for?" she spat out.
"They've built a camp you can go to..."
Old Coto gave a snort and said to Kaim,
"You're a new one. I've never seen you before."
"So you don't even know what the camp's like. You soldiers have nothing to worry about."
"What do you mean?"
Old Coto said nothing but pointed toward the steep mountain standing like a painted screen on the west side of the village.
Kaim asked, "Is that where the camp is?"
"Hell no. You have to cross that mountain and another one to get to it. Nobody my age can walk that far. What's the point of building a camp in a place like that? How many old folks do they think are going to make it over there? They might as well leave us out in the hills to die like in the old days."
Kaim was at a loss for an answer. Continuing her digging, the old woman grumbled,
"That's how the government does everything..."
She was clearly angry, but perhaps less angry than sad.
"You're on an inspection tour, right? Well, don't let me stop you..."
"No, you see..."
"You're not going to get me to go to any damn refugee camp. That's all there is to it. I'm not going anywhere. This is the village I was born in, and I've lived here all my life."
"I know how you feel, but this place is going to turn into a battlefield soon."
"I know that."
Kaim was at a loss for words again.
When she saw that, she smiled and said, "You're a sweet young man. Kind of unusual in a soldier."
Her expression had softened for the first time.
Once she stopped being so prickly, the smile she produced was actually rather endearing.
"When this place turns into a battlefield, people will die. Lots of them. I know that much, don't worry. But I have work to do, soldier boy. Telling me to leave my work and run away is like telling me to die anyway--and it won't be long now--I want you to let me do what I want to do. You shouldn't have a problem with that."
Kaim fell silent. Not because he was at a loss for words yet again, but because he believed she was right. "If I'm going to die anyway." she had said. Knowing that he would bever be able to speak such words, he had no choice but to bow silently to her will.
"All right, then, run along there, sonny. I've got work to do."
"What are you doing now?"
"See for yourself!"
"Sorry, but I don't know much about farm work."
"Like all the other soldiers." old Coto said with a smile.
"The only thing you people ever think about is killing enemies. You don't know anything about nurturing life." She let a hint of sorrow show again.
Perhaps somewhat taken with Kaim, however, she favored him with an explanation.
"I'm planting seeds." she said.
Grains of wheat:
you sow them in the fall, they mature over winter,
shoot up under the spring sun, and turn the fields golden in summer.
"I always do my planting when the northern mountain peaks turn white. Every year. And this year's not going to be any different."
Would the seeds mature in the trampled fields? Kaim had his doubts.
Grandma Coto, however, displayed not the least anxiety or resignation as she scattered seeds in the newly-turned soil.
Her hands performed the age-old ritual with the ease and naturalness, as if to impress upon Kaim the fact that what she was doing this year was nothing more nor less than what she had done every year before.
As a result, Kaim's next words emerged with a smoothness that he himself found somwhat surprising.
"What if the seeds don't grow?"
"The I'll just do it again next year. And if next year's bad, I'll do it again the year after that. You have to plant the seeds. That's how I've lived my life. If you don't plant, nothing will grow. See what I mean?"
"I think so..."
"Whether there's a fight or not, it doesn't matter. I'm just going to do what I have to do. That's all."
She spoke with certainty, her wrinkled face softening into smile as she added, "You can'teven enjoy a meal if you know you haven't done things right."
"You're saying that this is what gives your life its meaning?"
This was the question to which Kaim had long searched for an answer.
For what purpose had he been born into this world?
What was he supposed to accomplish here?
He had continued to roam thyough his life's enless journey without knowing the answers to the questions--indeed, because he didn't know the answers.
"I don't know about deep stuff like that." Grandma Coto said shyly.
"I just mill the wheat I've harvested, and bake bread in the fall. That bread is really special. Nothing tasted as good as the first bread you make with te wheat you grew that year.
That's what my grandson looks forward to every year. I can't just decide to take a year off now, can I?"
"I see what you mean."
"No you don't." she declared. "You're nothing but a damn soldier."
Her face had turned hard again. There were no more smiles from her that day.
When Kaim returned to the barracks, a soldier who had been stationed in the village for six months or more said to him, "That old bag hates our guts."
"Because we've ruined the village?"
"That's part of it, I suppose, but it's got deeper roots than that for her."
Grandma Coto had lost her entire family to war. First her husband had died in the war forty years earlier, then her son and his wife in the war twenety years earlier, and now the one grandson they had left was taken to fight in the current war.
"What's his unit?" Kim asked the soldier.
The man gave a helpless shrug and named a unit that had been sent t an area with the most intense fighting.
"Talk about bad luck! The fighting's so bad out there, if it was me, I'd take my chances on being executed for deserting under fire. He's got maybe a 50-50 chance of coming back alive. No, maybe 30-70."
If her grandson were to be killed, Grandma Coto would be all alone in the world. She would have no one to feed her bread to.
"It must be tough to be left alone at that age." the soldier said.
"Looking at old Coto, I can't help thinking of my mother back home. There's no way I can let myself get killed. She'd never stop crying. Same for you, too, eh, Kaim?"
Kaim said nothing in reply. He had no right to put himself in the same category as this soldier.
The battle started three days later.
The enemy army's attack was even fiercer than expected. The defense forces had no choice but to put everything they had into the fight.
Kaim slipped away from the battlefront and headed for Grandma Coto's house.
He found her leaving for the field as always.
She gave no sign that she was afraid of the fighting. People who know exactly what they must do, and who refuse to be distracted by anything else, can be strong beyond all reason.
Kaim saw now that there coud be far greater strength in a finite life than in one that lasted forever. Because he sensed this so deeply, he stood before her, blocking her way.
He lifted the tiny old woman in his arms an carried her bodily back to her house.
"What are you doing? Let go of me! I'm not going to follow some soldier's orders! I have work to do!"
"Yes, I know that." Kaim said.
"So put me down now!"
"I don't want to let you die."
Holding her against his chest, he looked her in the eye and pleaded with her.
"I want you to bake bread next autumn again from a new crop of wheat."
She stopped flailing her arms and legs in avain attempt to get free of his grip. She looked straight back at him as he said,
"As long as you have someone to feed your freshly-baked bread to, I want you to keep baking bread year after year."
Old Coto heaved a huge sigh and muttered, smiling, "I knew you were a very strange soldier."
The batte raged on for several days.
The arrogant, cowardly captain died in the fighting.
The soldier who had told Kaim the story of Grandma Coto also died.
Countless defense troops died, and countless enemy troops died.
The village was consumed in flames of war, and old Coto's field was ravaged under the heels of the military.
Kaim's side managed to stave off the attackers, then followed the retreating enemy to the north.
All that remained in their wake was the empty, devastated village.
The war ended as spring was giving way to summer.
At the cost of massive casualties, the army repulsed the enemy's invasion.
The village began to recover little by little.
As Grandma Coto had predicted, not one old person who crossed the mountains to the refugee camp came back alive.
Autumn, and Kaim has come back to the village.
He feels warm in the chest when he looks across the fields and spots old Coto sowing wheat.
So...she's doing it again this year.
And next year, and the year after that, for as long as she is alive.
She notices Kaim, and crosses toward him with a welcoming smile. A year has passed. She seems to have shrunk somewhat with a year's worth of aging.
"Haven't seen you in awhile." she says. "So--they didn't kill you!"
"And I'm glad to see you looking well, too."
"I heard you stayed near my house during the fight--you single-handedly fought to keep enemy troops away from it!"
Kaim gives her a shy smile. "How was your wheat?" he asks.
"All ruined, of course. Worst crop I've ever had--a few scrawny stalks. Barely enough for one loaf."
She tells him all this with surprising ease.
The she fixes her eye on him and asks, "Have some?"
"Bread, of course! I'll bake a loaf now if you'll help me eat it."
"Well, sure, but..."
Grandma Coto sees through Kaim's hesitancy and says with a calm smile.
"Yes, he's dead, my grandson, I got word at the end of the summer. I was waiting and hoping...planning to bake him a loaf of bread as soon as he got home."
When she sees Kaim hanging his head in silence, she asopts a spirited tone as if she has to be the one to cheer him up.
"Come on, then, you eat what he would have had. It'll probably be tougher than usual,what with the wheat harvest being s bad, but I'm sure my grandson would be happy to know I fed my bread to the man who saved my life."
So, this old woman has lost her entire family to war.
In other words, there is no one left to enjoy her bread.
Still, se urges Kaim to "Wait just a minute while I finish this up," sowing the wheat for next year's harvest.
She does it because that is what she has always done.
Because it is what she is supposed to do.
Kaim stops himself from speaking the words, "Let me help," and stands staring at old Coto's bent back.
In the glow of the setting autumn sun, she is sadly small and sadly beautiful.
Kaim eats the fresh-baked bread.
Old Coto was right: made from wheat grown without its full measure of care, the bread is hard and dry, and poor in taste.
Still, of all the bread Kaim has eaten--and will go on to eat--in his long, long life, this is by far the most delicious.