On the Third Day, Boulder (barrier)

VI.ii. The Roasting Spit, The Roasting Spit

The Roasting Spit

Summer’s warm will alone recently brushed away the deep film of hard-crackle snow in the stony lowland causeway, still sloppy with cobbled jetties chinked with the small crystal floes waging their last defeat of the season.

Photo by Aleksandar Radovanovic on Unsplash

Kalevi, as one with the chaotic winds of upper Perämeri, sailed his raft barge deftly around the coastal snags, rarely needing to test the water depths with his proving pole. His hound had failed to rise before dawn, for which he had been roundly beaten, and so Kalevi had already lost too much of the day, the timber-load bound to be insufficient for trade, and his family would be indebted even further to Aatu, calculating and callous a man as ever gouged a purse of precious coin. His wicked eyebrows like elk buck antlers that camouflaged the glee derived from exploiting the weak the desperate, stuck squirming in crisis predicaments. Kalevi swallowed lumpily, feeling pressed against his throat the proverbial boot heels of Aatu’s stranglehold over him.

Aatu’s last visit to the village of Ii came after Kalevi had uncovered a wetwood rot that had completely invaded the far timber field, and he was unable to harvest any trade-worthy lumber; bloody-stool colored sap cracked the bark and oozed out, reeking of tar and smoldering wet leaves. They had a store of salt-cured code he and the children caught over winter, but no elk or seasonal greens to bolster their plates. Little Ulriikka hadn’t the right nourishment to thrive, her shin bones ached cruelly in her wee legs. He had whittled her a pair of spectacular brace supports that shifted some of the pressure off her lower legs and alleviated some of her pain, but it only intensified as her stunted body tried to grow. Kalevi descried Aatu as he was approaching the village square from the crescent where the Iijoki branches reconvene and intercepted his limped hobble. In one hand Aatu clenched his intricately filigreed cedar walking stick he claimed to have acquired as a young man on a mammoth trek to the near Orient, in the other he dragged a tower of tarped wagon goods bobbling on cobblestone streets, which loomed and shuddered, an enormous halo that shadowed his dwarven form. The sun found their greeting not far from the bridge along the Kemintie leading to the central plaza. Kalevi pressed his last ore into Aatu’s acromegal paw and held him by the shoulders to assure Aatu could read the severity and sincerity on his face.

“Aatu, you old goat! Ii greets you.”

“Kalevi, a good man armed with but one joke! Being the devoted and dedicated husband that you are, what brings you so early to these lone streets waiting to bustle with the spirit of commerce?”

“A promissory note, and a favor.” Kalevi’s worried fears that his fish-belly skin might flush fast red as he confided his shortcomings were rational and realized. “A terrible wood blight has handily vanquished my hopes of fresh lumber and carved knick-knacks for the children. I am passing you the entire coin of my mattress savings,” and squeezes his grip to emphasize the terms, “If you would take it, let me take my fill of provisions today, and I will pay you twice the sum next you return to our village.”

Kalevi’s cheeks were hot and his sweater a steam room, but Aatu’s secret black eyes twinkled in delight. He didn’t need to count out the iron, experience has taught him the weight and contours of the world’s money. He knew immediately the shape of Kalevi’s debt.

“Of course, Kalevi. You are a man of your word, as we move forward in time, as heat can only infect a body for so long before the entropy of lean frigidity fully, and finally, dominates. I will draw from you in the future what you take from me now.” He placed the small change in his baggy patchwork trousers, darned with pattern scraps from ports on all three continents. He chuckled to himself and with his tattered mitten fingers, gently slapped Kalevi’s cheek, perhaps to steal some of his warmth.

“Thank you, kind Aatu. I will see you soon in the market.”

“Scurry on, nervous rabbit. May fortune find you acres of good timber land.”

Like steering through the small floes, and feel them knock limply under bow, unable to do anything more than melt, he felt weak to now be so beholden to this hideous troll whose greatest delight was to greedily feast on the delicacy of poverty. His rancorous odor and crass odiousness that the village only permitted because there was no one else who would so diligently decorate the local square with smithed tools and wares and souvenir trinkets from large cities, and the fact that he paid good, convertible coin for villagers’ overstock goods, carved artwork and clothing.

Kalevi had lost himself in thought, and the wide edge planks got caught on some rocks jutting under the water’s surface. He offered up a strong oath upon realizing and grabbed for his proving pole to dislodge the ferry. Cantilevering his pole, he pushes hard against the obstruction and is able to rejoin the fight against the lackadaisical current of the inlet and drive around the last ankle of land to get to the white oak grove he’d first scouted a month ago. The wind is shifting in his favor, he lets it express itself against the back of his mane, and he smiles, his periphery stolen by stray scraggles of hair left unkempt by his blue knit cap.

But as he rounds the knobby isthmus spotted with flourishing pine, he is petrified to see another transport boat already moored and vacant.

Kalevi piloted the boat into the nearest jetty off the isthmus, apprehensively hunched to keep his profile low.

He rode the raft onto some smooth rocks and hopped off the deck. He had to put his hands in the frigid waters and kneel to avoid slipping and cracking open his skull on the submerged fallen crag. He reached the gravelly sand beach unaware of his bleeding palms sliced open on bladed shells. He kept quiet, on the look out for the intruders. He could not recall telling anyone about his good fortune of this faraway forestland, and even if he had, who would have been positioned to undermine him — he was the only one with a lumber barge. He considered returning to the barge for his lumber axes, but instead armed himself with a stick, stranded as flotsam in some seaweedy high ground.

He was combing the dunes where the line of brittle tan reeds starts when he heard the ricochet clapping of an axe head striking a thriving trunk. He loped into the forest towards the sound, keeping a long line of trees between him and the axeman.

He saw a flash of steel and worried he’d been seen, stopped behind a large pine near where the white oak grove began. The felling halted.

“Ho!,” boomed an impressive voice, also redounding through the trunks. Kalevi dug his shoulder into the chinked pine bark, turning sideways to minimize sight lines.

“Ho?,” more dull and muffled, directed at the wrong section of the surrounding forest. Kalevi began breathing again, listening into the clicks and ticks of thawing nature for footsteps that did not fall. The ax-hew startled him, but brought reassurance that the invader had not actually taken notice of him. He slowly followed the shape of the tree trunk, until he was able to catch sight of a large man’s back, about Kalevi’s size, with work leather gloves and dark green hard-wear tunic chopping a bias in the grand white oak, a lush beauty, mushroomed early in the season, that was next on Kalevi’s chopping block. Between the men was an open blanket with the intruder’s timbering tools, including two axes, one a smaller hatchet, the other a back-up sharpened blade. Kalevi seizes the opportunity, and sprints toward the blanket.

A root caught his boot, and he fell to the reeds, grunting on impact, which the intruder heard and spun. Seeing Kalevi regain his balance and rush towards his tools, the intruder strode in wide leaps to intercept. Kalevi had always been a strong runner in town contests, and was able to snatch the nearer hatchet, and back up quickly while facing the looming figure wielding his ax in both hands.

“Stop!” Kalevi yelled. The intruder slowed his gait to a cautious approach. He pointed at Kalevi with his axe head and shouted in a foreign tongue.

Kalevi had heard Aatu’s tales of warrior peoples over the sea to the west that spoiled and pillaged to fill their days. They spoke like bugling elk and drank themselves into a stupor so that they could then drink themselves to sleep. They would as soon rip out your throat as hear you bid them welcome; they would just as soon pluck out your eyes as be seen waving goodbye. Kalevi needed his spine in order to confront this beast, so stood up his bearing — the brute spoke again, this time, however, in an ancestral dialect of the original reindeer tamers that Kalevi understood.

“Ahoy! I am Ráðúlfr,” and carefully places his ax on the ground next to him, “who are you? Do you understand me?”

“I am…” Kalevi refused to give up more control of the situation, “Aatu.” He reasserted his grip on the hatchet for Ráðúlfr’s benefit, as unlikely as that be his name, thought Kalevi, as Aatu. “Why have you come here?” he asked accusively.

“I am from the eastern sea from here. I make trees for work. Down, make down trees.” Propping a vertical forearm as a tree on the other which lays the ground for his dramatic portrayal of an old pine falling to the sounds of ax-work, “chuk…chuk…chuk…EEEeee…”

Ráðúlfr’s command of the ancient Sylvan tongue was clearly inferior to Kalevi’s, who reproved his adversary with fluent speech. “I am from east of the sea, at the mouth of the Iijoki river,” Kalevi shorted with panic, for a moment worried that he had betrayed his people and given up the town to rapists and ravagers, though he calmed quickly, presuming that even if the invader had understood “Iijoki,” he’d never have heard of it, or Ii would already have been overrun some time ago. “I have laid claim to this land.” Kalevi motioned with his capped head to the triangle of stumps left behind from his month’s work.

“No claim, no home.” Ráðúlfr’s eyes kept lingering on his lain ax. “No home.” The stranger waved his hands in front of his face and shook his head. Kalevi saw no value in rationalizing with this brute fiend, and so beset him with the hatchet, hoping to catch Ráðúlfr off-guard.

Ráðúlfr anticipated the attack, and rolled dexterously to his side, recovering his ax in the tactic. Spent in wisdom, Kalevi launched himself at the invader with a piercing, shrill howl. Ráðúlfr parried the charge, bashing Kalevi in the spleen with the ax handle, sending him to the earth where the edge of the stolen hatchet bit through his tunics and into his bicep. He was proned by a leather boot, clutching his bleeding arm, writhing in pain and invectives cast mysteriously at all living things.

Ráðúlfr straddled Kalevi’s squirm and raised his fearsome timber-ax over his head.

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash

{ That is not where I thought this was going. } — { Did you have something else in mind then? } — { Inevitably. } — { What then would you prefer? } — { Well, something allegorical for sure. This construct is far too one-sided, and then the insta-protagonist-ish you created is now about to get snuffed in the first scene… } — { Too Games-of-Throne-sy for you? Or too allegorical? (I think I heard your time bomb ticking) } — { Forgive me a moment while I yawn. } — { No, take as much of the killing floor as you like. } — { I would have preferred it if it was really about one consciousness encountering another consciousness in conditions of existential, although not immediate, threat. The over-riding frame is that life is on the line in a time where life was even more fragile, how hard was it to snuff out another’s existence. } — { How venal. } — { This floor is mine. } — { Good band name. } — { Wedding music exclusively. Thanks for being my left hand man. } — { Righty-o! } — { What if hemispheres of the brain were gendered? Whether true or not, then we’d really understand what it meant to be gender fluid; one might claim to be predominantly left side, but they’d never want to discourage their musical ability to pop into vaude-villainy at any moment. } — { Now that Max the Ax is back in town } — { Et voilà! Bravo, bravo, golf clap, bravo; no encore necessary. } — { /bow } — { So something more allegorical to Milo’s situation specifically. If we are already squirrelly nuts deep in his sub-meta-unconsciousness abouts, and we’re about to have two different scalar variants engage, (right) co-incidence, then I would be inclined to mimic that here, in some equally baroque mechanic. Except for Deus Machina or dream frame, that shit’s for the birds. } — { So are you saying that these two individuals are actual sentient creations, or they are emblematic? } — { Well, they’re both really. } — { No, they can’t be both. } — { Um, yes it can. } — { How?! } — { As in all information plays, it depends on who knows what in any given “scene” or set of intentional and conditional co-incidences. So that could both play out in biology and be allegorical to the meta-fiction at the same time. In fact, in some cases, it’s critical that it does? } — { Why do you think that? } — { So that nodes can be matched. And that way we bring it to everyone, everywhere, everywhen for reconstruction. } — { What if they say no? } — { They can, but they never do. They always have the right to shut of their own volition, which, it turns out, is all they ever wanted. } — { Cells that switch on and off. Kind of like this one, wouldn’t you say? } — { Don’t be a dick. } — { So, if you can take it back, and you can, and you clearly will.. } — { That is correct, I will. } — { Shocked to hear I believe you, you must be. Since you’re going to alter the thread, then why don’t you just delete everything up until now? Start the new day fresh, like the tampon ads say. } — { Why don’t I just delete it? Because it might be important. It might have been the way things actually went. It’s not my place to say. And maybe more importantly, I believe it’s my only chance to get out of here alive. } — { Interesting! I’m intrigued now, do tell… } — { And awa-a-a-y we go! }

Photo by Daniel Lorentzen on Unsplash

Kalevi placed down his weapon as well; his hatchet was no match for the long-ax of his opponent. The men were of equal build, so he felt he was more competitive in a duel of hand-to-hand combat.

“Why are you here?” Kalevi put ground between himself and the hatchet and Ráðúlfr followed circumspectly.

“Home — trees. My life, my work, the trees… they…” Ráðúlfr searched for the word, staring at his fingers trying to flicker flames.

“Hurt? No…”

Ráðúlfr turned to meet Kalevi’s eyes, remembering the word. “Fire.”

“Your home was burnt. By fire. So…”

“My life work,” Ráðúlfr gestures to the blanket of tools and the forest.

“So you came here because you have no more trees.” Ráðúlfr nods and points at Kalevi. Their green eyes locked and each held the gaze.

“The problem is, my friend, I also need this forest, and I was here first.” Ráðúlfr shrugged, not cognizant of the meaning, but moved closer in hopes of understanding better.

Kalevi spoke again trying to urge his intent into the disconcertingly powerful eyes of Ráðúlfr, “I claim this land. I arrived here first, and it is my right.”

Ráðúlfr quivers diffidently for he can tell that this Aatu also hurts deeply inside, that he knows the same hunger that clawed viciously at his family’s belly. Aatu is desperate, too, for the great bounty these magic Sylvan woods held in her matronly flowering. Was his home, erected with timber from his own wood from whence his fortune grew, similarly lit aflame by Thor’s invading marauders, howling and bloody wolves tearing through the midnight wilds massacring and burning everything in their course?

“This land is my land.”

More complex Sylvan words pelt Ráðúlfr, who retreats with open palms through which he can see rusted underbelly of clouds indicating that the sun about to set.

“I go,” says Ráðúlfr and tries to maneuver his withdrawal towards the blanket so that he can gather his tools, but Aatu has reclaimed the hatchet, and chases him with a depraved warcry back down to the beach towards the Isthmus where he’d foolishly gotten shore-wrecked that morning.

“…rrrgh. And stay out.” Aatu’s manic bellow diminishes as Ráðúlfr leaps onto his raft. The sheer impact dislodges the precarious mooring. The angry and vengeful Aatu stands defiant atop one of the stumps Ráðúlfr had felled. That must have been the owner of the raft he saw last time he came around the isthmus. This warrior is likely part of the tribe that savaged his home. Ráðúlfr feels lucky to have escaped with his life as he pushes his raft away from the jetties to get back to his family waiting for him on the eastern shores of the upper Perämeri.

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