His name was Jebediah. He lived alone on a small farm on the outskirts of town. Nobody ever visited him, and he rarely showed himself to the townsfolk. He was tall and gaunt, and his old bones creaked when he moved. He never seemed to change his clothes; he was perpetually clad in earthen-brown robes with the hood drawn up. Nobody could remember where he had come from; as far as they knew, he had always been there. How he managed the farm was just as much of a mystery. He had fields of corn and wheat which seemed to grow normally enough through the year, but around harvest time they disappeared overnight, leaving a single scarecrow exposed in the middle of the land.
Nobody had ever seen any trace of another living soul on that farm. Nobody knew how Jebediah managed to grow and harvest that many crops all by himself. And nobody knew where the harvest went at the end of the year. As such, Jebediah became the object of such conjecture as him being some sort of sorcerer, or even a devil. Naughty children were told horrifying tales where Jebediah would whisk them away to his hidden lair and devour them if they didn't behave. Even the bravest of sceptics dared not set foot upon the path toward his home.
It was autumn, about time for the harvest. Sweaty, cheerful folk milled about their fields, shouting their conversations to each other over the various crops. The sun beat down upon their aching backs, but they were used to it, and nobody complained. The sound of hoof beats in the distance made one of them look up. He saw a group of about twenty men on horseback, but thought nothing of it. Trading convoys were common around this time of year. The wild hoots and calls made him look again. His face turned pale, and he dropped his tools and ran for the town, shouting for the rest to follow suit - the quickly approaching men were brandishing all manner of blades, and he had no intention of waiting to ask their purpose!
The townsfolk barricaded themselves in their homes as the bandits swept into the town, raucous, terrifying laughter filling the air. The bandits were soon gathered in the town square, snickering to themselves as they eyed the buildings around them. One of them, evidently the leader, stood in his stirrups. His skin was coarse and tanned like the others, but completely unscarred. His eyes were sharp, much like a hawk's, and he was considerably beefy. His attire was typical of bandits of the time, except he wore a red bandana to distinguish himself from the others. He breathed in deeply, then bellowed, "PARLEY!"
There was no sign of movement from the houses; the townsfolk were undoubtedly cowering within. This seemed to anger him, and he bellowed once more, "PARLEY, DAMN YOU, OR WE RAZE THE TOWN!"
The door to the town hall creaked open, and out came a mousey little man in a worn suit. He walked down the steps, trembling with fright. The bandit leader grinned and urged his horse forward; it galloped towards the man, only slowing and rearing up when it had nearly trampled him. The man whimpered with fright as he fell backwards onto the steps, and the bandit leader laughed cruelly. "This town is part of our territory now. We demand a tribute! Fifty thousand marks a month!"
The mousey little man stood and dusted himself off. He was clearly terrified, but he put on his bravest face and stammered, "W... we don't have that much money! We could..."
He froze. The bandit leader smiled grimly, bringing down his blade. "Useless! We have no need for such a poor town!" Blood spattered across the stairs, and the bandits laughed raucously, dismounting and running riot through the town, some brandishing blades, others carrying burning torches which they used to set light to anything flammable.
By nightfall, a third of the town was ablaze, and only a few buildings remained battered but not breached. The bandits had taken to the deserted tavern, their crass jubilation in stark contrast to the desolation they had left in their wake. A pile of loot lay in the centre of the room, and the bandit leader stood over it, laughing as he swigged his mead and watched his men counting the spoils. Soon, this too came to an end, and the bandits lay strewn about the floor of the tavern, snoring heartily, save for the leader and the four youngest ones who were guarding the tavern outside.
The leader was a fearless man. He had led his men through countless perils, and he had emerged from each with nary a scratch. He believed himself invincible, and it would be hard to prove him wrong - he certainly had the strategic and martial prowess to substantiate the claim. Yet on this night he felt a certain unease; it was far too quiet, and there had been an incessant rustling noise from outside for a while now. Steeling himself, he gripped his sword and stepped outside.
His eyes widened and he gasped in shock - a rare occurrence, but anyone would have reacted that way at the sight that lay before him. His view was entirely blocked by stalks of corn. They surrounded the tavern completely, as if it were a desert island in the middle of a vast ocean. The bandit leader blinked, then pinched himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming. Drawing his sword, he hacked at the crops, causing a stalk to fall here, an ear of corn to fall there. Grunting, he made his way into the seemingly endless field, calling for his compatriots.
The moon and the stars were the only light he had; the tight spacing of the corn stalks did not help the visibility one bit. Eventually, his arm grew tired, and he sat down for a rest, looking up at the starry night sky. He grumbled to himself, slightly regretting his choice of guards. Presently, an ear of corn rolled out from the darkness beside him, causing him to spring to his feet and pull out his sword. It looked normal enough, except the corn was a bright red. He pondered this for a moment, then angrily cut his way through the field in the direction it had appeared from. He did not appreciate being toyed with, and he had no intention of letting this trickery continue for much longer.
His foot struck something, and he jumped back reflexively, pointing his sword at the offending object. What he saw caused him to shout with fright and fall backwards - it was barely recognisable as the youngest of the four he had sent out. The body was covered with blood, garments shredded to ribbons. Its limbs were twisted at a most unnatural angle, and the face was set in a silent scream, as if rigor mortis had abruptly set in partway through his ordeal.
The bandit leader was genuinely afraid for the first time in a long time. He scrambled to his feet and turned to run back to the tavern, but the path he had painstakingly hacked into the corn field was gone! It was as if the corn stalks had magically re-grown themselves. Worse, all the corn that had reappeared was the same bright red that had heralded this nightmare. In a blind panic, he flailed and pushed his way through the darkened field, stumbling over yet another mutilated body - the eldest, this time.
He felt his sword being wrenched from his grasp, and he turned to face the aggressor, readying his fists; but there was nobody there, and his sword was nowhere to be seen. He wheeled around to examine the body of his subordinate, hoping to find at least a knife to defend himself, but the body was gone. In its place was an old man in earthen-brown robes, supporting himself on the haft of his scythe. Blood dripped from the tip of the blade, the droplets splattering softly on the ground. The bandit leader roared with fury, "DO YOU THINK YOU FRIGHTEN ME, OLD MAN?", charging towards the frail figure.
The punch connected, and the bandit leader snarled with satisfaction - then screamed in pain as his fist was cleft in two. The old man turned to face him, watching dispassionately as he sank to his knees, blood spurting from the wound. The blood seeped into the ground, and the corn stalks around the bandit leader seemed to glow slightly. Abruptly, they snapped and fell over as if they had turned brittle. The first one struck him on the tip of his nose, and he fell onto his back in shock as it was sliced clean off. His screams were muffled as they buried him, weighing him down and cutting into his flesh like knives. The old man merely shook his head and hobbled away.
The next morning, the survivors of the raid cautiously cracked open their doors and looked outside - there was no sign of the bandits whatsoever. They gathered in the town hall, some wailing and mourning their losses, others thanking the gods for their salvation. Thankfully, there weren't too many casualties - the bandits had intended to sell them as slaves once they had been flushed out of their shelters.
An air of unease hung over the town for the next month or so as the townsfolk worked to complete the harvest. They never knew what happened to the bandits, and attributed their disappearance to some sort of harvest deity; kicking off an entirely new religion that gained popularity among a few of the neighbouring towns.
The more observant of them, however, shunned this new religion, for they had seen the sinister truth, but dared not speak it - Jebediah's crops had been harvested overnight as usual, this time leaving twenty-one scarecrows distributed haphazardly across his land.