Before (Baris and his Branch)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
The intro to a series of shorts stories involving Baris' son, and a girl he meets in the wilds.

Submitted: April 24, 2013

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Submitted: April 24, 2013






Beneath the cozy pines Baris Brynmor crouched, scattering flakes of dried fish over the surface of his small looking pond.  The carp beneath the surface rippled the water and sent his reflection dancing with the trees.  Baris smiled as they fought over the food rained upon them from above.  How long he had tended them, fed them, cared for them. 

His wife thought him obsessed.  If he had spent half the effort on his work that was spent on his damned fish, they would be twice as wealthy.

Baris cared for money as he did for the air he breathed; enough to survive was all he asked. 

He dipped his hands to wash the excess fish food from his fingers and smiled again when the fish nipped at his fingers.

The late summer day was warm and lazy, the buzzing in the trees sounded the bright rays of sunshine warming the earth. 

Trading the sack for his bow and his axe, he stepped into the earthberm house long enough to tell his wife his return before dinner, then he was off.  Striding quickly he passed through the trees.  He had to remind himself to slow down; today was a day of rest, not of over exertion. It was a day to look for the wood for his new bow; a cut with a delicate curve, and no weaknesses.

There was an intrinsic beauty to the process of molding living wood to the master’s touch.  Finding living wood, cutting and shaping, dipping the ends in tar, then the long process of seasoning the wood.  It would be alternated, sun, and shade, every three days for 3 moons.  Then the bow would be bent for the first time, to ensure its body was free of cracks. A day to dry sand, then wet.  Another day to oil and finally string.  His patience would be tested with this bow.  It was to be perfect. 

The summer sun warmed his body and his clothes stuck to his body as he walked briskly through the wood, his wood.  He tromped through the pines and oaks, sage orange and beech.  His eyes scanning every branch for the perfect curve. 

He came to a brace of oak trees, the heart of his wood.  He ducked under a low hanging branch and came to the century oak, a tree his father’s father climbed as a boy.  Set against a bank of the stream that trickled from a fount to the north, it’s roots creeping to the water.  The woods were darker here and sunlight crept in through small holes in the wood’s roof. 

Baris grabbed a root and climbed the short bank.  He knew this tree.  Somehow he had always sensed it knew him.  The coldest of winter could lash from the north, and still this tree was warm to the touch.  The oaken heart of the wood of his family. 

Baris grabbed the lowest branch to the ground and swung upwards.  Every year the climb became more difficult, and he reminisced that youth meant flexibility.  The spaced branches afforded an easy climb upwards, past the empty nests of chicks cast from their nest to fly or fall.  The further he climbed the warmer the sun became.  Eighty feet in the air he stood on a branch that creaked under his weight; a warning he imagined.  A false step and a slip was a long fall.  The breeze picked up, though he could barely feel it, and shook the tree.  Baris hung on and cast about for the branch, his branch. 

He stooped under a branch and circled the narrow trunk, the tree swaying beneath.  He stopped.  He saw his branch.  Reaching out over a branch that flung itself out of the tree’s body, he sawed at its base.  The tree groaned beneath him.  The branch broke free, and before he could grab it, the branch crashed headlong down to the forest floor beneath.  Thump.

Baris clipped the saw to his belt, and descended quickly.  Too quickly it seemed.  Twenty feet above the ground his foot slipped, and he bounced heavily off branches and landed hard on the ground, his head smacking an exposed root.  He rolled, tumbled down the embankment and splashed into the stream.  His head was wet and foggy as he clambered out.  He wiped the wetness from his eyes and saw red on his four hands.  He blinked and grabbed a root to steady himself.  “Impatience will bring hastiness” His father always said.  He blew the water from his nose and sat heavily on the slope waiting for his head to clear.  His saw had broken its leather thong and he dragged it from the creek and threw it on the opposite bank. 

Mmm…you are clumsy for a thief.”

Baris looked up, his head echoed with the voice he didn’t recognize.  His face flushed with embarrassment for whoever could have seen his wild tumble. 

“I-I lost grip is a’.” Baris stuttered, too dazed to protest his innocence.

Baris hear a horrendous creaking behind him and something poked him in the back.  Turning he saw roots twining lazily around the branch he had cut.

“Indeed one so clumsy would lose much if he were not careful.”

Baris stared and the massive trunk twisted slightly, and its roots trembled, tearing slowly at the earth.  The wind had died.  Baris rubbed his eyes. 

“Clumsiness is not your worse face I can see, thievery more like.”

“I-I…I cut a branch, to make a bow.  This is my wood, and has been since my father died.  You cn’ not steal what is yours.” Baris spoke and looked about for the voice.  He was convinced the tree’s movements were his head’s dazed imaginings. 

“Ending with a truth hardly proves a falsity.  The wood is not yours.  It is no one’s.  It does not grow to be possessed.  It grows to reach the sun.”  The willowy voice came from the top of the bank.

His head clearing, Baris stood and stared full at the tree.  Its roots had stopped moving, but fresh turned earth clung to them, and the trunk of the giant oak still swayed despite the dead wind. 

Baris blinked heavily, the rainbows edging his vision were receding and he felt steadier, besides his turning stomach.  After several moments of heavy silence he struggled up the bank and saw his branch was stuck between several twisted roots.  He grabbed the end and pulled, bracing himself against the trunk.  The branch did not budge. 

Looking around he shouted, “It’s mine, I cut it! This is my wood!” The roots twisted under him and he lost his balance, backpedaled, and then tumbled down the slope again.  He landed on his backside in the water, a rock poking his back and water rushing through his boots. 

An oaken laugh could be heard up the bank as he dragged himself dripping from the creek, his leather boots squelching.  He climbed the bank and again started pulling on the wedged branch.

“Let go – ugh – of my – errr – branch!”

A root shifted and he went sprawling. 

You are yet a child, fresh from womb, and chaste to be denied his play stick.”

Baris sat and looked at the oak.  This couldn’t be real.  Mayhap he had hit his head harder than he though.  Trees could talk no more than squirrels.  Yet the voice came from somewhere. 

He stood and walked around the trunk, looking for the body to the voice. 

“This is my land, get o’ it fore you find my boot in your arse.” Puffed Baris, convinced someone was tricking him.

“You can no more throw me off the land than turn that stream to flow toward the sky.”

The voice had come from the tree.  It’s branches moved as it spoke.  It was as if the wind in the leaves formed words.  A sighing sort of speech it was, and shallow as a bubbling brook. 

“Did-did you…” Baris just stood, mouth agape.

“Indeed, if only you had asked, I might have given my branch to you.  Yet you meant and mean to take it, like a common thief.  Squirrels have more respect than you.”

Again the branches sighed as the tree spoke. 

“But-,“ Baris could not think. So he sat. Heavily.

For a while he simply looked at the tree.  Studied it’s rough bark and looked for a face or a mouth, yet found nothing. 

“If you ask a branch of me, then I would ask something of you, child.”

Baris’ chest puffed out, “I am no child, I haven’t been for forty years.”

“Indeed, you are a child, and a thief.  But even thieves must be of a use to those in need.  I will give you a my branch, if you would give me something in return.”

“I’m no child, and thief neither.  It’s my wood, and my branch.” Baris said.

“I will not ask much of you, fear not.  I wish only for a simple errand.”

“Well, will you give me my branch? I’ve been lookin’ for that branch for weeks now, it’s to be a bow for my eldest.  I mean to have it.”

“You must swear an oath on your son to find the oak named Fire, and whisper these words into its heart: fey pro dae po.  Do this, and the bow you craft will never break when bent, its arrow will shoot straighter than the north wind, and farther than the birds that fly the air.”

“Where is the tree, is it here, in my woods?” asked Baris.

“No child, it is far from here.  Too far for me to hear anymore, I cannot find it through root and soil.  So you must.  You who walks many miles in a day.”

“How do I know where to find it?”

“By this: ‘Water it drinks, but stone it eats, light it shuns, and in darkness it burns.’  Now here is my branch I give to you.”

The roots separated and Baris sprang up and plucked his branch from the roots. 

“Now go, child.”

© Copyright 2019 WilliamRCaster. All rights reserved.

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