Of the origins of Tousanne, scholars are prone to discord. There are those who point to a period of prolonged unrest. Disease spread as a new empire rose from the east. Most were eviscerated, their houses turned to ash on the valley floor. The villagers fled and fortified. Archaeologists have indeed found an ancient village there, its charred remnants just beneath the soil. Yet there is little left for historians to dig through, and the manuscripts have all burned and vanished, they suppose.

Others maintain that the village of Tousanne has existed at its current site for millennia. They see its connection to the neighboring villages as one of trade but not of kinship. These men balk at wars and squint in the church archives for sundry maps and charters to corroborate their theories. In the church basements, they have catalogued the sediments upon which the city rests. They speak longingly of the monastic men, their own ideals transposed to those of ancient Tousanne.

Tousanne is an ancient city, with many stories of its own of how it came to be and why. But the villagers are loathe to entertain the scholars or the archaeologists. They suspect that these men would rather dig up their streets and demolish their homes in search of fruit bowls than listen to their own meandering tales.

There is an old woman in the main square of Tousanne whose crumpled posture is beset with rags and scarves. She holds a bag overflowing of stale bread crumbs beside her to feed the pigeons. The old woman, who speaks without confidence, says that there was not a war, but a famine, and that it did not happen in Tousanne nor anywhere near. Her ancestors, she says, wandered up hillsides to sleep at night for safety. Here, they found a city where they thought they had at first only seen a rock. There was no church nor spire nor monastery and the nearby villages were hostile. The houses were gray, mostly abandoned, and crumbling slightly- less abandoned than eroded.

They climbed steep steps to a plateau. There, they found peach trees, hundreds of them, weak but giving fruit. They could be found in the houses, in the streets, even hanging off ancient canopies and bursting from stones in the clearings. They took root there, devouring the plump summer peaches until they were nourished and revived and recalled themselves. The caravan decided to winter there, even as the peaches dwindled, and they established relations with their neighbors. The dead city became a living one, and soon the streets and the houses threw off their ancient dust and gloom.

The winter came and went and the caravan’s anticipation of peach season grew. But the fruit trees never bore buds. The villagers waited, season after season, and their frustration grew at the obstinacy of the trees. At long last, they uprooted the unyielding peach trees one by one, building churches and houses and stores where they had feasted in that now distant summer.

The old woman tosses the remaining breadcrumbs to the pigeons. We often forget those that have revived us from our misery, she says. They too must be replenished.

Lisan Ile