Lief squinted against the shimmering dawn light. Something was
rolling through the long grass towards them, shrieking. As it drew
closer he realized that it was a little old woman. She was so plump,
and so wrapped and bundled in shawls, that she seemed completely
round. Thin brown hair was screwed up into a tiny topknot on her
head. Her face was creased and crinkled all over like a wizened
apple, and red with anger. She was frowning furiously, shaking her
"Thieves!" she shrieked. "Vagabonds! Give them back! Give them
The three companions stared at her, open-mouthed.
"You stole my apples!" the old woman yelled. "You stole my beauties
while my guards slept. Where are they? Give them to me!"
Silently, Jasmine passed over the three apples that remained in
her hands. The woman clasped them to her chest and glared.
"Cheat! Where are the others?" she shouted. "Where are the other
six? Every apple is numbered. Every one must be accounted for. How
else can I fill my quota? Nine fruit you took, and nine must be
Barda cleared his throat. "I am very sorry, madam, but we cannot
return them. I fear they are already eaten."
The old woman seemed to swell, and went so red that Lief feared
she might explode.
"Wewe beg your pardon," he stammered, "We were so hungry
The old woman threw back her head, raised her arms, shook her
shawls, and gave a terrible, high-pitched cry.
Immediately, she was surrounded by a dark, whirling, humming cloud.
Bees. Thousands of bees. They had been riding on her back, clustered
under her shawls. Now they were swarming in the air around her,
waiting for the order to attack.