Before arriving to a village you see the communal fields worked by the villagers to provide food for themselves and their livestock as well as to sell. Long strips of land, maybe an acre or two across, lay fallow while another strip will be planted with wheat, oats, barley, or other grains. The bands of alternating strips are all bordered by paths and in some cases drainage ditches. Scarecrows can be seen guarding the fields and during the fall the fields are the scene of frantic activity from sunrise to sunset. Of course the lands you crossed to reach these fields were probably surrounded either by grazing lands or woods stretching several hundred square acres. These areas are commonly divided by low earthen walls sometimes several feet tall. Other smaller areas of several acres can be seen with wood walls or stone scavenged from ruins to hold livestock during the winter with a hut or two for a shepherd to stay in while guarding his flock. Depending on the season there may be many encounters with villagers watching their animals, gathering firewood, or harvesting their fields.
“I shall provide the neccessities of life; unless the land fails.”
The large patches of woodlands are necessary in a world lit and warmed only by fire. The woods provide fuel, building materials, food, herbal remedies, as well as a home for wild pigs, deer, bear, and other animals hunted by the villagers. In some lands the villagers can only hunt in certain woods while others can go where they want as the distance between villages is too great to generate friction. These forests are usually carefully cultivated and protected by the villagers who will gladly welcome a druid who makes their home in one of the glades. Some of the more basic needs of life are to be found in the woods: villagers use moss as there is no modern toilet paper. There are sometimes acres of great oaks carefully tended to provide lumber and beams for building.
Closer to the village, which is now in sight, are vegetable fields and orchards of nut and fruit trees. Most of the vegetable plots are an acre or two at the most while the orchards can be several acres to even larger glades of several dozen acres of carefully tended trees. During the autumn, usually right after the harvest, the villagers can be found harvesting the fruit and nuts from the trees. Some stands of trees are of evergreen which is used to create pitch, tar, and other products from their sap.
Barrels to catch rainwater sit at each corner of the roof while a small vegetable garden and fenced animal pens surround the house. The building itself may be one to four rooms in size depending on the prosperity of the villagers. A barn, chicken coop, and farm utensils are all behind the house which is seperated from its neighbors with a four to five foot fence. A broken cart may be sitting awaiting repair, and a cook/smoke house may be in use. Often firewood piles are stacked to form a temporary fence.
All of this is surrounded by a wooden, stone, or mixed stone and wood wall with one or two gates along with a guard tower and maybe a small guard house. If there is a tax collector or other oficial he is usually found here.
To a townsman the rural village may look like a total mess. A dozen or so houses, wooden structures based on a framework of sturdy beams and fastened together with wooden pegs covered with planks and a weaving of branches that are then covered in a mixture of clay, straw, and even dung. The door is wooden and there are external shutters that are pulled closed at night but no glass. Some have gauzey curtains to allow some air in while in the winter heavy drapes are used. If the village is close to a source of stone, be it a quarry or an old ruin, the lower part of the house may be made of stone with a stone floor. A peaked thatch roof rises up into a peak some twenty-five feet above the ground from which a chimney sticks through in some areas while others merely use an opening under the peak to vent the smoke.
There are usually no shops or permanent tradesmen in a village outside of a millwright, carpenter, and most importantly, a blacksmith. There is usually a market area between the houses or in a field nearby. The meeting hall/inne and manorhouse of the presiding lord borders the market green. The manorhouse is a small keep into which the villagers can seek shelter during an attack. It is here caravans will stop for the night as the green may be an acre or two in size. In times of trouble people from outlying farms will pitch their tents or build temporary shelters here. On market day travelling merchants and tradesman may be found here buying, selling, or trading wares: things not locally produced. At least one altar stands along the edge of the common market area, sometimes there is one building dedicated to the gods while in other places there are a series of shrines and their attendant priests. Though most villagers are illiterate, a news board either stands in front of the manor house, the inne, or sometimes on the side of the inne. Usually there are several people who do know how to read and when messengers or others post new parchments a crowd forms to hear it read to them. Everyone recognizes the sigil of their lord, the local Duke or King, and now increasingly Imperial decrees.
The village life provides a constant and even reassuring stability to life. The average villager can probably recognize every chicken, pig, horse, cow, and other animal in his village; and know who it belongs to. As well as know personally everyone and their families in the local area as his father was raised with their fathers generation after generation since the village was founded and sometimes even before when the people left their old homes and created new ones. Life for the most part is short out in the countryside: a boy of 12 is considered a man and girls are usually married in their early teens. Most adults age prematurely from the strenous life long labors necessary to survive. Very few survive into their sixties. Depending on the area and lord; many villagers are serfs or bondsmen though this is rare in the Duchy of Ardeth where most villagers are freemen. Even in these areas though there can be slaves: long term imprisonment is not practical. And people also surrendered themselves into bondage during times of famine or distress; when they simply cannot provide for their families any more. Local laws use slavery as the penalty for offences ranging from theft to incest. A father may sell his son into bondage if necessity forces him to do so under the age of seven. Infantcide is not considered a crime: natural disasters, wars, and predation by monsters, along with the hardships caused by them are constant spectres. Villagers date their lives by the years when the land and weather failed, or fighting ruined the land. In times of scarcity people scoure the fields and woods for herbs, nettles, wild grasses: anything to allay the pangs of starvation.
Most work in a village is seasonal and revolves around the fields, flocks, and harvest. Agricultural industry provides roughly 10% - 15% surplus available for sale and trade. Women in the village tend to the children, watch the chickens and other animals while baking, cooking, and sometimes working a spindle to make thread or even a small loom. The men spend most of their lives with the flocks or farming: plowing, sowing, tending, or harvesting. When the fields are not demanding full attention they gather wood, hunt, or repair their homes and the defenses of the village. Most boys can shoot a bow and use a club or quarterstaff by the age of eight, and can set snares to catch rabbits and other small game in areas where the chances of something preying on them are lower.