The sound of silver bells rang in Arring’s ears just as he stepped off the ascent and into the broad meadow at the top of the cliff. He rushed to take another step forward, ending up with his chest uncomfortably close to the Captain’s elbow. Then he blinked.
When he opened his eyes again, he was in a thick forest where even the smallest trees he saw were easily as thick as Erik’s shoulders and a diffuse gray light made it hard to tell direction or distance. Off to his left, he heard the sound of axes striking timber. Must be a woodcutter’s camp nearby. With a shrug he jogged off to investigate.
After a while, the sound of men’s voices rose above the continual thock… thock… thock of chopping wood. They were shouting about something, but the voices were still so indistinct he couldn’t quite tell what. Arring picked up his pace.
As he loped around trees as big as three men, Arring caught notes of urgency in the woodcutter’s voices. He snorted and kept on. Sprinting wasn’t likely to accomplish anything other than winding him.
Finally the source of the noise came into view. No fewer than six woodcutters were clustered around a tree large enough one could carve a longship from it rather than cutting it into boards. A large ring of wood had already been chopped. Some of the wedges they removed had been stacked to the side to use as firewood that night. No matter how much he looked, though, he could not see where they intended it to land. There were only two clear spaces wide enough to accommodate that trunk. In one of them, the woodcutter’s camp was plainly visible. In the other stood a village.
Curious, Arring approached a brown-haired man who stood back, directing their progress. “Hello.”
“Marnin’. What kin I do fer ye?” The man’s accent was strange to Arring’s ears.
“I was wondering if there was something I could do for you, actually. That’s a mighty impressive log you’re aiming to fell.”
“Beauty, ain’t it?”
“Mm. But, where are you planning to put it?”
“Why, straight down that’a’way, o’course.” The woodcutter gestured toward the place Arring felt certain there was a village. “Plenty o’ room ‘fore it hits the near fields.”
“If you say so.”
“We measured as close as we can. Couldn’t get the top out, but she’ll make the squeeze.”
The two men stood in silence a moment longer, Arring trying to decide if he trusted the man’s measure, before the woodcutter spoke again. “You still want to give us a hand, we could use an extra pair of strong arms working an axe.”
Arring gave the man an oddly self-deprecating grin. “I think I just might do that.”
Felling even an ordinary tree was hard labor, but Arring enjoyed the warmth it brought to the muscles of his shoulders and arms, enjoyed the rhythm of swinging an axe against a foe that did not move.
Arring’s shoulders had begun to ache by the time the waist of the tree narrowed sufficiently that they could begin to push.
With a crack and a giant’s groan the massive tree swayed as the woodcutters clustered together and shoved. The sound of wind through the branches was like a squall.
Until it stopped, with the tree propped at an odd angle by a trunk somehow strong enough to stop its charge. When the woodcutters saw this they, too, groaned.
“How are we supposed to get this beast unstuck?” One of them complained aloud.
Arring laughed. “I guess the Norns smile on you lot. Let me have a look.”
He leapt up on the stump, rubbing his palms together, and stepped toward the wall of wood he would need to scale. The other woodcutters looked skeptical, as well they might. Even the Captain or Erik would have trouble with that jump, but while they were taller than Arring they did not have the sheer power of his muscles. Arring bent his knees and jumped for the barky ledge overhead, catching it on the first go and pulling himself up on top of the half-felled log in one fluid motion.
“Don’t worry,” he called down. “I’ll set it down gentle as a babe for ye!”
Arring jogged along the top of the log, swinging around the occasional branch that stood to bar his way, until he reached the hangup.
He pressed his lips together, evaluating his options. As massive as this tree was, the one causing them issues was still larger. Worse, the log had caught in a fork of the other tree, which was probably the only reason it caught at all.
Ordinarily, he would cut the fork, but a quick climb along each of the branches warned him against that. To the left the forest became thicker: cutting that side would only get the log stuck again. To the right, the branch would block the road and crush a shrine. Worse, there would be nothing to stop the log from rolling. The woodcutters could easily end up owing their entire season’s take from restitution alone.
Arring nodded to himself and turned around.
“It’s stuck in a fork,” he announced when he reached the cut edge of the log. “I need your best catchers, a barricade, and one massive sling.”
The overseer frowned. “Show me.”
Arring shrugged, and then they both stood on the log just before its nest. “If we split the log, the top may as well just put down fresh roots. It’ll end up vertical before it actually comes all the way down. Same problem if we send it left, although we might lose less. And, well, look to the right.”
“A shrine of Frol, and Galing’s pasture wall.” The chief woodcutter cursed. “Can’t very well drop a tree on the tree-god’s shrine.”
“Not if you hope for a long life. But if your men can rig up a ramp to catch the branch, we can toss the log into a sling and lower’er down to the ground, nice and easy.”
The woodcutter swallowed. “…Toss?”
“Hm. You’re right. I’ll need a platform, too.”
“You intend to toss this monster?”
“Assuming I can get the proper leverage. Is that a problem?”
“…No, of course not.”
“Good. Let’s get to it, then.”