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35 min readThe Woodsman

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Chapter 1


Danny squinted as he saw the last rays of sunshine across the horizon. He sighed. His favorite time of the day had just passed, and as the night came, so did the emptiness.

He turned away from the bluffs that overlooked the sea, the water still shining as if in a desperate attempt to prolong the day. In front of him was his bench, nothing more than an old fallen tree carved out where it lay.

His eyes trailed beside it, to the trail that led home. A groan escaped his lips.

Life as a woodsman wasn’t bad, but the monotony sometimes drove him insane. He loved the woods that surrounded him. In fact, the reason he loved the ledge he was on now was because it was surrounded by forest, the only space was where the old tree had fallen in some long forgotten storm. It wasn’t dead exactly; every now and then a few small branches would pop up and bud. But they never lasted long.

No, what got to him was the repetition. Wake up, eat, fell trees, go home and sleep. Same work, same people, same grays. The only break he had from that monotony was when he was fortunate enough to finish early, and would escape to this spot. At this time the sky would light up in a unique way, and the grays would glow as if they had something more to offer. And every day it would pass, leaving him still in his uneventful world.

He started home. The trees embrace provided some cold comfort to his soul. Fall was certainly rolling in if the cold breeze playfully swirling through the trees was to be believed. He smiled. Soon the time of hot cocoa with Marshmallow would be upon them.

He smiled. He loved this weather. The early evening mist hung in wisps around him, having a hard time permeating the forest. That allowed the breeze to take form, and it felt like dancing clouds surrounded him.

He reached his home about fifteen minutes after he headed out. Like most places in Danny’s life, his home was situated in a snug little clearing, just big enough to fit the two-bedroom log cabin and the small garden in front of it.

The cabin had been made by the very trees that had once stood in that very clearing generations ago. Everything they did was done in such a way as to disturb the forest as little as possible.

Danny crossed the remaining steps while fumbling through his pockets.

Damn. He thought. Forgot my keys again.

He stepped lightly sideways out from in front of the door and knocked apprehensively.

He held his breath and curled up as much as his 1.9m wide-shouldered frame allowed as the old wooden door slowly creaked open.

“Hello?” An old, weak voice, cracking and trembling, inquired.

Tufts of short, uncombed hair at waist height slowly appeared through the door, accompanied by the sound of a cane hitting the wooden floor.

“Helloooo?”

Glasses followed, big, thick and round, framing the face of the small, bent old man that appeared, leaning hard on a simple but elegantly carved wooden cane.

The little man stopped two feet from the door and looked around, squinting in spite of his glasses, smacking his wrinkled lips twice.

“Hello?”

Danny pushed away from the wall he had curled up against.

“Dad! It’s… Omph!”

Danny was bent over gasping for air, the old man’s cane planted firmly in his stomach.

Every damn time! Danny thought as he stumbled back a couple of steps.

The old man laughed.

“You’re not making this much of a challenge son. Remind me, how many times have you avoided me?”

Danny groaned. “None.”

On his 20th birthday, Danny told his parents that he wanted to travel. After a quick discussion, it became painfully apparent even to him that he had no real plan for how he was going to take care of himself during his travels, times being what they were.

On the verge of giving up, his father told him that he would help Danny out if he was able to keep him from surprising Danny for one whole day.

Obviously, Danny lept to the chance, the old man as old as he was. Three years later he was beginning to wonder if he had made the right decision.

Probably not he now decided.

Yes, he could just go, but who was he kidding? If he couldn’t even avoid his old man, there was no way he’d survive out there.

“Come now Danny-boy, your mother made hare stew for dinner.” The old man smiled, turning back towards the door no longer shuffling, the cane that never left his side marking a remarkable pace for someone with such short legs.

“I’m not hungry anymore.” Danny muttered, peeling off the floor he had apparently sunk to at some point, following his father at a much slower pace.

“Sari, your son is home” filled the round living room, made entirely of well oiled, waxed or otherwise treated wood. The floor was made of one same tree trunk, cut against the grain and fitted perfectly in radiating patterns, the bigger parts of the base of the tree in the center with the thinner parts of the top cut to perfectly fit around them, and had been done with such attention to detail that there had been no need to glue or otherwise stick the parts together.

Once that was done the wood had been meticulously sanded to the same height and to ensure that there were no deeper grooves or higher edges.

That being done, the entire floor was flooded with oil and left to sit and absorb it for a month in order to better preserve the wood. After that, the excess oil was with rags and three giant coal-filled braziers were hung on the rafters and lit before covering the floor in an even coat of freshly extracted sap. The heat of the braziers would speed the hardening process by half the time, allowing the glorious amber substance to crystallize in only two weeks. When the fire reflected on the floor it would bathe the empty room in a glow that would make the sunset blush.

In a world without color, however, the final step of sanding with a thin grain served two purposes; making the floor less slippery and removing the eerie glow it created.

The embers had a second function as well that was to heat and dry the support beams, allowing them to absorb as much smoke as possible. Then when blackened they would be coated several times in oil and allowed to dry, hardening almost to the point of metal.

All the trees used in the construction have their bark stripped and sap drained and collected.

The bark is dried before being ground and mixed into the sap that would be set in molds and left to harden. Once hard enough to handle, they are mounted on the support beams and glued together with more sap, forming a waterproof bark-darkened roof. This could be covered with other materials to reduce reflectivity or polished to shroud the house in a surreal glow.

Ordinarily, though, they would be simply left alone. Placed before the floor was done, they would absorb the heat from the braziers and meld together with the house structure.

Because of this, only the support beams and outer walls would be built before the roof, which was followed by the floor and lastly by the internal walls that were always leveled at the same height as the outer walls, and so never reached the ceiling.

Danny’s gaze stretched beyond the living room, to where the floor straightened out and rose in a step that stretched wider than the room before it. There in the center was a round wooden table surrounded by four chairs.

Above it was a round skylight a bit bigger than the table made with clarified sap, the main light source for the middle of the house. Behind the table to left was the kitchen while to the right was the bathroom. Facing them were the doorways that led to the rooms, one on each side.

To the left of the table was Danny’s father, arms around a taller wrinkled-but-kind-faced woman, her long thick gray hair tied up in a messy bun. The oven mitts were still on as she held out a steaming pot, interrupted in the middle of setting it on the table.

The old man was hugging her tightly as his hands wandered slightly, his face smashed against her back.

“Did he pass today?” Came the beautifully melodic voice, at least ten years younger than one would expect.

“Not even close!” The old man replied before placing a peck on the nape of her neck, leaning away and slapping her on the bottom.

“Ewwwww! Now I’m definitely not hungry!” Danny called as he slowly made his way to the table.

His mother laughed as she finally set the pot down. The old man was placing tableware as Danny dropped on a chair and groaned.

His father pulled up a chair and sat down, perching the cane on the table. His mother walked back to the kitchen and began scrubbing dishes.

“Sariel, leave those for later. Let’s eat!” Danny’s father said while impatiently fidgeting with his wooden bowl.

“I’m coming honey. I just needed to wash the ladle.” Sari replied, placing the ladle in the pot as she sat.

The stew was a simple one. It consisted of some hare scraps left from the bigger cuts of meat, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, some herbs and a few mushrooms that grew around their property.

Dinner was a quiet affair. Simple talk about each other’s day was what filled the space between their bites.

Soon enough everyone had their fill. Danny got up and started to clear the table, as his parents left for their room. Tomorrow would be a long day with an early start.

He stood there in silence, the only sound coming from the scraping of the brush against the wooden bowls, as he slowly washed the dishes, his mind miles away.

The water streamed down the sink, splashing on the dishes as it made its way down the bamboo pipes that ran through the house, cascading in small waterfalls, cut open in half to add to the decoration in the kitchen.

Soap foamed as the pot overflowed, and Danny’s hands scrubbed slower and slower, until they finally came to a stop, unnoticed.

His mind wandered, touching lightly on a thousand things, coming eventually to rest on his beloved sunset.

He poured over the perfect image held in memory. The blinding white sphere hanging low in the sky, irradiating its light in a vast array of gray. The shades the world around him took, as if vibrating in expectation before settling down to more subdued shades, waiting to blend in the night.

A spoon slipped from its perch in a bowl and clattered to the bottom of the sink, snapping Danny out of his trance.

He sighed as he looked around, the evening changing into night, and felt an oppressiveness that wasn’t there before. The blackened sky, a faint moon hanging low as it began its rise, and the flicker of the flames seemed suddenly empty and depressing.

His focus turned now completely to the dishes he washed, in an effort known to be futile to dispel the tired feeling of emptiness filling him. But his heart knew that feeling would follow him to bed.

Eventually, all the dishes were washed and the counter scrubbed clean. Danny started around the house, putting out the candles save one, that he took with him to his room.

Shutting the heavy door behind him, he placed his candle on the dresser and slowly undressed, never leaving his reverie. After placing his clothes on the coat hanger he snuffed out the candle and climbed into bed.

Dawn was upon him almost immediately.

Danny groaned, feeling just as bleary as the night before.

Damn it he thought as he put on fresh clothes, feeling as well as someone who has slept on a sack of broken bricks.

He arrived at the kitchen just as the forest began to shimmer, first light barely reaching over the trees.

His father was already there, quietly sipping on his coffee while reading some publication or another.

Cities usually had some sort of bulletin for important announcements that would generally be pegged to a board in the town square. But nothing would come as far as his house, so Danny could only imagine what it was.

He grabbed a mug and sat on the nearest chair. The smell wafted up, filling his nostrils, stirring him gently as the mug found its way to his lips.

The almost too warm coffee ran down his throat, warming him up as he began to feel more awake.

“So, what will you be doing today?” Came the question from across the table.

“Well, it’s getting colder, so I guess that after I check the traps I might as well chop some wood.”

“Hum.” His father grunted. “Just make sure to not fell the whole tree. No one’s around to help today.”

“I know dad. I’m just going to chop off a few branches here and there. It’s not like we don’t have any wood; I just don’t want to have to go chopping during winter like last year.”

“Well, last year was colder than usual. Still, you already made the woodshed larger, so I guess it won’t hurt to have some extra wood. By the way, try to get some peach wood, or something fruity. I want to smoke some meats once the wood dries.”

“Oh come on! That is literally counterproductive. I’m getting wood for the winter and you want to use it all.”

“Well, do you want to have to go trapping in the middle of a blizzard?”

“Fine! I’ll get more wood!”

Danny got up and walked to the kitchen counter, grabbing a few slices of bread and spreading butter on them for toast, all the while griping about how he had more work to do now. But his father was right. He did not want to have to go check the traps during the coldest days, and besides, smoked meat is delicious.

He grabbed the cast-iron skillet from the hangar between the sink and the stove, dangling from the ceiling, and set it on the opening where the wood fire burned the hottest. As the iron heated he finished buttering his bread, before setting it in the skillet.

Once the bread was on its way to toast, he went to the cupboard next to the sink and pulled out a jar of jam. It was last season’s strawberry jam, the last jar. Soon they would be making the new batch of jams, just in time to have them all winter.

Whatever fruits or ingredients they couldn’t gather from the forest were bought in the market. Those that they would get in excess would be traded or sold, along with any extra jams they made.

Though their town was small and hidden, surrounded by the forest, there weren’t as many families living off of it like Danny’s. Most were folk that would simply process the different things obtained from the woods and sell them to merchants who would, in turn, sell them in bigger cities. So families like Danny’s, who had a tradition of being woodsmen, were the backbone of their community, and few would try to cheat them, knowing that doing so would spell their own downfall.

When winter would approach, it was customary that families lend their apprentices when they could to help the woodsmen, in order to raise the chances of there being a large surplus so that the village would be provided for. After all, it was cheaper to lend some boys every now and then than to have to buy the necessary items from a traveling merchant, who always raised their prices right before winter.

The bread now had turned into a glorious golden toast, and as Danny’s mother walked in as he removed them from the fire. They clattered lightly on his plate and, grabbing the jar of jam, he headed back to his seat, his mother putting her own bread to toast.

“Danny, what will you be doing today?” She asked.

“I’m going out for some more wood. Dad wants to smoke some meat for winter, and I don’t want to have to go get wood in the cold.”

“That’s a good idea. By the way honey, we should go to the market this week. I’ll be starting the new batch of jams and I’ll need some things.”

“Ok, I’ll go tomorrow.” Ephenor replied. “I’ll ask around the town if one of the boys can come up to help gather firewood. People will be wanting extra this year given last year’s snow.”

“You are probably right about that. That should help this winter be a little comfier for us.”

“Indeed. Though I prefer to do what I can myself and not get involved in the town’s affairs, they do have some nice things.”

Danny knew it to be true. As far as woodsmen went, they lived the farthest and had lest contact with the town, being nearly self-sufficient. Unlike most other families, they did not focus on being a big enterprise. All the same, there was no one who knew the woods more than Danny’s father, and he had a knack for knowing what people would need. So even though they produced so little, they always set the trend.

This meant that the other families made sure to treat them well. Not only did they not offer significant competition, whoever managed to figure out what Danny’s father would do gained a huge advantage.

It was, however, difficult to obtain such information, since he strongly disliked any kind of politics, and preferred to be as removed as possible from the world. So it meant that in order to get the information, one had to keep his favorite shops in their pockets and get them to lend helpers whenever possible.

As for the shops, because of this patronage, it was in their best interests to give the Zeider family the best experience possible. Very often that meant giving prices that were lower than cost, extra portions and all kinds of things that would make one unfamiliar with the exchange wonder if the whole town had gone mad.

Sauriel and Ephenor were aware of this, though it was unspoken to them, and took full advantage of it. Though they would not pit the shops against each other, they almost always accepted the advantages given gracefully, refusing only when they knew the price for whoever was giving them would be too high. They were not the kind of people to allow others to suffer for their benefit.

In fact, they would often use their power as patrons to help businesses that were struggling by giving them preference. This way they would be sought out and could weather through the bad times.

Eventually, it became a sport of the other families to guess which businesses were doing worst and offer to help them before they were marked by the Zeiders. This way the other families would have no claim over the stores and they would have the advantage.

Danny finished what was left of his coffee and headed out, grabbing his coat on the way. It wasn’t exactly cold yet, but on the bluffs, you never knew. He headed around the house to grab his axe, machete, and whetstone. He decided not to pack a lunch since he’d need to make several trips back to the house.

He took a small sled with him as well, and rope. Branches are very often unwieldy, and he hoped to be able to skip the hassle of carrying them in his arms. Still, it may well be that he wouldn’t be able to accommodate them properly on the sled, and that opened up a whole new set of problems.

All the same, the probability was greater that it would help, so he decided it was worth the risk.

He finally set off as the crisp air started to warm, the sun now shining at a 45-degree angle. Few rays actually made their way to him, but the forest no longer glowed eerily. Slinging the sled across his back, with the machete sheathed at his waist along with the whetstone that was tied and hung around the sheath, and with his ax in hand, he started off westward.

There from his home, the land sloped gently upwards. He would walk for about three miles before he started cutting branches, and would make his way back till lunch. After that, he’d set off in the opposite direction and repeat. With any luck, he’d have time to watch the sunset.

As he walked he whistled tunelessly, simply as a way of having something to do while he walked. The birds around him chirped from time to time adding to the noise, and he kept an eye out for any good branched he might come across.

Finally, he reached the distance. Here he would look around to select the best woods for his purposes. Fruit trees for the smoking. Oran trees for the fires. Unlike most trees, Oran seemed to grow already dried. When burned, the wood will kindle almost immediately, even if freshly chopped, and they gave no smoke. While somewhat rare, they could be found, and forester families like Danny’s took great care in planting as many as they could, since their wood was a prize.

They couldn’t, however, be properly harvested due to the fact that for some inexplicable reason they only grew in the wild. Some thought they might need other trees in order to grow; that they provided some substance needed by the Oran trees, but no one knew for sure. In any case, it proved much easier to plant as many as possible in the forests and hope for the best.

The families also had an unspoken agreement that one only harvested the trees that they planted. In order to do this best, it was customary to mark the saplings and keep track of them zealously.

They also generally avoided chopping them down outright. More often than not, harvesting their branches provided enough wood, given that the price for Oran wood was more than one would be willing to spend for purposes such as cooking or burning in the main room.

He started looking for the fruit trees. They would need to be dried in order to be preserved throughout the winter. The Oran wood didn’t rot, so it was no concern. Not only did it grow dry enough that bacteria wouldn’t foster, but even if left in water it would remain dry. It had some hydrophobic property that so far no one had been able to extract.

When someone did, however, they would easily make a fortune.

The wood was an anomaly of nature; born dead yet never dying completely. The trees would change leaves with the passing of the seasons, but no branches would fall unless broken. And even then they would just lay there where they fell until something picked them up or they were finally buried.

It was not uncommon to find small branches, decades old, lying in a spot where there once had been an Oran tree in a place that did not allow the leaves to settle. When found, one could simply plant the branch, and soon thereafter the tree would start to grow, as if freshly cut.

In fact, part of the inheritance of the woodsmen in this region was often branches of the wood. In the case of a forest fire or other disasters, or if one member moved to another place for any reason, they would have a small guarantee of income readily available.

Danny found a few peach trees and began working on removing the deader branches. He wasn’t quite sure how they’d gotten there, but in this forest, you just never knew what to expect.

Every now and then, random types of trees and plants would turn up as if out of the sky, already fully grown. You learned to get used to it and make the most of it, though it was never any less surprising.

More annoyingly though was that these plants that showed up would also disappear again without warning. Every so often you’d find a fruit you liked growing in your backyard, but by the time they could be plucked, the tree would vanish, as if tantalizing you.

But sometimes the forest would turn up some wicked brush; thorny, useless and poisonous. And they would start to poison some of the plants around them, making them rot.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were the only things known to be capable of rotting Oran trees. Apparently, their poison was a sort of acid that would decompose whatever came into contact with it.

Today though, there were peaches. Since peaches didn’t grow for too long around here, especially now that the temperatures would start to drop, he made sure to cut down as many branches as he could.

Now, he didn’t completely cut the tree down, because, for one, the tree wasn’t his. They didn’t have peach trees here though they had tried. It was simply never hot enough for the trees to recover from the cold periods, which here spanned for about half a year, starting in autumn and ate into the beginning of spring.

That didn’t mean that it snowed for all that – it usually only snowed during the winter. But the wind that the sea would bring always came from the cold north, and at the height, they found themselves it passed through the trees unchallenged by the leaves.

That draft made sure very few parts of the forest ever became hot, even during the summers. So while the weather would become very pleasant, one still needed to take care not to get a chill in the evenings.

Soon he had enough wood to justify a trip back. Making his way through the woods, he passed some small depressions in the land, not steep or too low; just sloping down enough that from a small distance you wouldn’t notice it was there.

Small clouds of mist could be seen, leisurely weaving through the trees. Though the canopy of the forest impeded direct sunlight here, the area was well lit, and cozy despite the wind.

As he passed the dip, he made a note of its location. It would be a nice spot to rest in, perhaps even bring a girl, if he could get one to agree.

The wind blew and the shades danced, the world moving in syntony. Yes, this was why Danny would always be a woodsman at heart. Only in nature did he find moments where things were precisely as they should be, and the world breathed in perfect harmony.

People, beyond doubt, were the reason why every moment wasn’t like this one. Gentle, perfect, inviting.

Sighing, he plodded along on his way, pulling the sled. It wouldn’t be time for lunch when he arrived, but close enough as to not justify going out before having it. He started thinking about what he could do to pass the time. He’d have to put the branches out in the sun, of course, to start the drying process. But that wouldn’t take that long.

What he needed was a way to be able to carry more branches so that he’d make fewer trips. They were a huge waste of time, and unnecessary.

That settled the matter then. He’d modify the sled so that he could pile more of the small branches and drag the bigger ones behind it.

Thoughts about how to accomplish that filled his mind as he finished his trek.

He arrived and unloaded the sled.

After lining up the branches in the sun, he went into the shed. He prodded around in there, the semi-darkness not being very helpful, until he found some old rope and a few planks of wood.

As he took them to the sled, he saw immediately that what he had planned wouldn’t work. He needed to create sides on the sled that would be removable and that sloped outwards. With the material he had, however, there was no way to place the walls on the sled.

Dropping everything, he headed back to the shed and began looking for some metal rods.

Those were expensive, especially here in the middle of nowhere. But since they wouldn’t need to be exclusive to his purpose, he rummaged around trying to find any that had been forgotten.

There were some rusting in the corner in the shed. Dragging them out, Danny banged them against a rock, in a mostly futile effort to remove the rust. Then he moved back into the shed and got the drill.

Getting the angles right would be kind of tricky, but Danny, as the rest of his family, had grown in the woods and had been working wood since he was old enough to hold a hammer. So, giving the project the required attention, he drilled without any incident.

The holes done, he slid the bars in place and started attaching the planks to the sled.

Though it was getting colder, the sun still shone hot, and by the time he was satisfied with the sled, Danny was dripping with sweat.

He left the sled out in the sun and ducked in the house.

The shade was cool, almost cold. Danny wiped his brow as he stepped up to the kitchen, and poured himself a cup of water.

Funny thing water.

He swirled it in his cup, tilting it against the light to see the light reflect on the surface. The water glowed faintly, the various tones of gray scattered around.

It was beautiful. There was something about the glow that made everything seem surreal. Like waking up to see the mist coming out of the forest when you don’t have to worry about what may lie within.

Like the silver moonlight bouncing off a pretty girl in the distance.

Silver. An oddity in the world. Legend has it that silver was once one of the many colors in the world.

That seemed unlikely. Most legends agreed that there was once color in the world; but what could have caused silver to be the only one not to disappear?

Not that anything was known about that. No legends were told, no histories to mention what had happened. It was as if colors were always legends.

So what made silver different?

Most likely, Danny thought silver is something else entirely, something no one understands, and people just decided to name it a color.

He downed the rest of the water in one swing, the whirlpool rushing down his throat. Refreshed, he headed back outside, his mother coming in the kitchen with an armload of vegetables to be served for lunch.

He sat in the shade of a tree, toes out in the sun. Removing his boots and socks, he lay back, head resting against a root, eyes wandering through the sky, looking but not seeing.


Chapter 2


The world was quiet.

Ewan paused, letting the silence fill his soul, eyes shut against the ray of light right in front of him, one of many that pierced the canopy of trees under which he was.

He breathed in deeply, cool damp air rushing into his lungs.

Yes, he thought this is what I needed.

His task was a simple one, if you counted what he did for a living as simple. There had been news of a candidate for awakening in the area, and he had been sent. Apparently, this one was on the edge already and only needed a nudge to complete the transformation.

Ewan knew that no job was simple, in spite of what he was told. However, here in the woods, with the sunlight dancing in beams around him as the wind rustled the leaves, the only sounds those of pure nature, he could almost believe.

He opened his eyes, continuing unhurriedly on his path. It was too pleasant a day to rush. Besides, he had all the time in the world.

The Overseers didn’t have to worry about the same things most humans did. Their attunement with the Other Side made them special.

In fact, it would be a stretch to call the elders human anymore.

No, they’re something else entirely.

Ewan was not an elder. But neither was he of the latest generations.

It would take some fifty years still for him to be able to be a candidate for an elder. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be one.

Being an Overseer was a calling, one very few were candidates for, and even less survived the transformation. Human brains were tricky things. Those who survived were very dedicated.

Ewan was dedicated. However, he was somewhat relaxed for Overseer standards. He would do his part flawlessly but would do no more than necessary.

He looked around twenty-five. But Overseers did not follow conventional rules. Their relationship with time was different than that of most humans; it was not completely linear.

That made age-counting much more complicated. As most candidates, Ewan was discovered and called by the Overseers when he was younger, in his case when he turned twenty. However, due to the nonlinear nature of his work, he had been an Overseer for around thirty years.

Most people did not understand the nature of their relationship with time. They assumed that Overseers could time-travel. That was not at all the case.

Time was not so linear. Every object — indeed, every atom itself — held its own time. Ewan liked to picture it as a ribbon that came from over a person’s head, going down till their feet, where they stood in the present time and went back up behind them.

There is no visual representation of time, of course, but visualization helped him understand.

Humans held the concept of time passage uniform, comparing external times to their own, thinking that things held more or less time.

That, however, was not true. Time was time; what changed was the rate it passed. And that was the Overseer secret.

Truthfully, all humans had the ability to affect their time. What separated regulars from Overseers was the intentionality and extent of that control.

The ability to slow the passing of one’s time made for unnaturally long life-spans, and permitted their movements to be perceived as incredibly fast.

Usually, Overseer tasks demanded such use. This rendered the furthering of their agenda more efficient.

Ewan liked to take his time whenever he could. Enjoying the task was one of the Overseers’ last pleasures. And Ewan’s attachment to pleasure was what prompted him to become an Overseer in the first place.

He sighed once again. Time, as it tended to do, was running out. People like to think that time runs out only once. That was foolishness.

Time was running out but it was nowhere near the end. Nothing so drastic as that. It was more or less ‘the middle is near’. Not nearly as exciting, but just as important.

He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. The picture drawn on it was faded, crumpled and not very distinctive. A man with a beard.

The notes scribbled on the back were almost as unhelpful.

Woodsman. Should be found in the area around the town of Cliffend. Older than most.

Lookers were curiously terrible with providing information, considering they spent their life finding it.

No point dwelling on it I suppose.

He had his mission. Completing it was his only choice.

He was almost out of breath from sighing, but that didn’t stop him from doing so once more, and he picked up the pace. Taking his time was one thing. Dilly-dallying was quite another.

His face slammed into a tree.

Had it been to another poor sap, Ewan certainly would have thought it funny. But sprawled over tree roots with his ass up like a child about to be spanked, he had a very hard time doing so.

Thankfulness that he was in the woods flooded him. At least no one would have seen.

You ok there?

Rats. So much for isolation.

Pushing himself as hard as he could, he nearly flew himself into an upright position.

I’m fine.

The stranger looked at him skeptically.

So your nose is like that on purpose?

His nose was broken. Siiiiiiiiiiigh.

Of course. It is the latest fashion in the capital.

The stranger rolled his eyes.

How many years had it been since someone had done so to him, Ewan wondered. Of course, the stranger couldn’t possibly know who he was – what he was, but Ewan had a feeling that even if he told him there would be no change in behavior.

This far out in nowhere, things that happened in far places mattered little, when they were even known.

Come on, let’s get you treated.

Without caring to see if Ewan was following, the stranger turned and started marching off in a direction that Ewan was pretty sure wasn’t to the village. But then again, it was his first time in these woods and the possibility that he had been heading in the wrong direction was there, however small it may be.

With a crack, he set his nose in place and blew as much blood out of it as he could, then headed out to follow the stranger.

He didn’t really need treatment, but it would be better to have an excuse to be in the village, especially one where strangers might not appear in a lifetime.

Novelty usually makes people suspicious. And the stranger posed no threat to him in any case.

The trek took longer than he had hoped. He had expected to arrive at the town before sundown, but the place he had just arrived at was definitely not the town, and the sun shone its last rays.

The place he arrived to was definitely not what he expected.

The cabin in the woods seemed to have far more order than he expected from the man. The oddity of a well-kept place being the home of the disheveled man with leaves in his hair and a fruit basket with what looked like peaches on his back did not reassure Ewan that this wasn’t a waste of his valuable time.

At least I can’t smell him. Ewan thought, his nose still pulsing slightly with a cold, sharp pain.

As they walked up to the house, the man took his basket off his shoulders and put it on the ground a few steps away from the door. Gingerly, and with obvious reluctance, he cleared the distance and stood, back against the wall, near the door knob, making sure that no part of his body was in front of the door.

Okay, this is just plain weird.

The man placed his key in the door, and turned and pushed as quickly as he could, making the door fly open as he threw himself out of the way. Ewan, not being a fool, had stepped clear from the door as soon as the man began acting weird, and was now standing to its side.

Still, when the man threw open the door, he took a step back.

As soon as the door opened halfway, a bamboo cane shot out, nearly clipping the man in his side.

What kind of man boobie-traps his house in a way that he can’t even come home? Ewan thought, appalled.

Dad! I’ve brought a guest! The man yelled, still hiding beside the door.

Silence returned from the house, while the mas waited patiently without moving. From where he stood, Ewan couldn’t see anything.

As Ewan once again started to wander what was going on, an old man stepped out, using a bamboo cane.

Well, hello there! I’m Ephanor. Who might you be?

Sorry, I just realized that I never got your name. Danny said, turning towards Ewan.

It’s Ewan. Was the reply.

I’m Danny. Welcome to my home. Danny responded, waving Ewan through the door.

You must have come from far away. Danny noted as Ewan settled himself on a couch.

What makes you say that? Ewan asked, curious.

Well, for one thing, you were far away from anything when I found you. There’s nothing that way but more forest and eventually a cliff.

I do come from a ways off. I was trying to reach the village.

Danny laughed. You must have passed the village by in the morning. What road were you taking?

Well, to be honest, I looked at the map and figures it would be shorter to just cut across the woods instead of following the winding road. I was sure I was going in the right direction.

Danny smiled. Ah, yes well, that will happen to you. the forest doesn’t act like it should around here.

What do you mean? Ewan asked as Ephanor set a kettle on a already lit stove.

Oh, it’s just that the forest can be tricky if you don’t know it, that’s all.

EOF