Chapter 27: THE OAK BRIDGE
Jonathon Parsell III, or Jack, as he was commonly known, because Parsell was too common a family name in Fortis, and Jonathon was too common a name in the world, had no idea what was going on back in his village. He had some notion the people were unhappy when he left that morning. There was grumbling in the streets, people were stirring all too early, unless they never went to bed in the first place, and, the most telling sign of all was that nobody had gotten to work before he left. Usually, first thing in the morning, the laundry pit was starting to get filled, the chickens would stop squawking because they had been fed, the cattle were tended to and shepherded out of the protective wolf gates and allowed to roam the fields.
Outside of the village, in the woods, the other members of Fortis would have already been packing in their sleeping arrangements. They knew, the people did, that it did them no good to leave all of their stuff out in the open. Part of their strength laid in the fact that little was known of them, including their numbers, and where they laid their heads. It was never in their plan to fight, but it was known to be a violent world, and being between two enemies was risky. The Lishens in their castle had once tried to rule the people of Fortis, and the people of Fortis were not going to forget that. If one were to look the other way, the people of Sanbay were enemies of Springborough as well, Springborough, and everything else on the island, including Fortis. So, between Springborough and Sanbay, Fortis had their hands full, which meant they would continue to sleep in the trees, in the ground, and in their huts, and be on defense every step of the way.
This morning was different. When Jack left his hut, he strolled to the makeshift concrete fountain that held rain water from the storm the night before, and he splashed all of the dirt and caked mud he could off of his face, arms, and exposed skin. It had been a long night, a long night collecting the body of one of his fallen men from the street. Zeke was a good man, but he did have somewhat of a temper, and Jack could see the temper getting the best of him, especially when someone from Springborough, a knight who probably was always on alert, found himself in the road of Fortis. He could see Zeke saying something, threatening even, and not realizing you don’t poke horses who are keen to kick. A knight from Springborough’s kick was enough to take Zeke’s head off, and so they had to bury it with the body. It was a sad night for all.
And an angry morning for some.
For Jack, it was another morning, and like every morning, he stole off into the woods as he always did, not telling anybody where he was going. He walked through the trees for hours as the sun rose in the sky, never seeing anybody. The woods were always quiet, except for the birds, which Jack took comfort in listening to. He spotted many, thinking he had memorized every bird in the area, and upon seeing the same species would simply call them familiar names, not caring if it was the same bird or not. The bird with a red body and brown back? That bird’s name was Robin, and any bird with a brown back and red chest was going to be greeted as Robin. The large black bird with a threatening caw was Raven. The smaller blue one who seemed to bully the rest, his name was Jay. And on and on Jack’s naming of the birds went. Why, the birds of Fortis were some of the only beings Jack talked to, and so he considered them some of his closest friends.
Jack was known in Fortis. His grandfather was the one that led the army to gain independence from King Thomas all those years ago. Jack’s father, a man of discipline, was very proud of his boy Jack when, as a young lad on a similar expedition, the wanderer had stumbled upon a cave in the forest. In the cave was iron ore, and over the next twenty years, villagers of Fortis who volunteered for the duty, became the cave dwellers of Fortis and they mined the cave for all that it was worth. With the iron, they traded it with the smiths of Baku for more cattle and chickens, more seeds for food. This saved the village again, as it was expanding and didn’t have enough food to feed everyone. And since their treaty with Springborough relied on the fact they had to keep their numbers low, everything was covert and hush-hush. After all the iron ore was taken from the cave, most of the villagers returned, although some stayed to live in the cave, preferring the wet and dark climate to the outdoors where it could sometimes get hot and muggy. Those cave dwelling villagers, sadly, had not been seen for years.
He was not on his way to the caves, though, or to the docks where Kelles was, a woman who arranged the secret meetings with Baku. Jack, for the past couple of months, had been traveling to the West Coast of the island to look out at the Oak Bridge that had once connected Sanbay to Springborough. In the past, this long bridge was a magnificent feat to have been built. It’s legs went deep into the water, in the mud there, where a harder component kept it all in place. Zeke, the recently deceased man, had figured out if one were to take crushed rocks and sand, mix it with the cement and water, it would harden into a larger rock, and that is what they used to keep the bridge stationary under water.
The bridge itself rose several stories into the air. When first completed, they realized the wind swayed the bridge back and forth, and so they built higher beams into the air, almost like sail masts, and strung ropes down to keep the bridge steady. Trial and error, the Oak Bridge was, and it was a combination of efforts between Sanbay and Springborough, but mainly between Fortis and Sanbay. And then, because the two villages couldn’t get along, King Daniel took it upon himself to blow the bridge to smithereens. Or rather, to destroy a large area in the middle of the bridge with a wagon full of dynamite.
Jack knew why it was necessary. While everyone grumbled and pouted about the “mean old king”, Jack realized that what was happening was the people of Sanbay, a Kingdom of its own right, were getting too chummy with the lowly people of Fortis. And while the two were friends, and Fortis and Sanbay would constantly hold events together, and laugh into the night, the people of Sanbay were slowly growing to pity the people of Fortis. For Fortis looked like shanties and dirt to a powerful Kingdom, one like Sanbay. But, what made the matter worse was Fortis did not look on Sanbay as if it was any better. In fact, much like Fortis spurned Springborough, the tiny village began to make Sanbay resentful of it by laughing at everything Sanbay held dear, the money and the statues, and pretty soon little quips at each other’s way of life were turning into arguing. Sanbay held their noses up at Fortis, and Fortis returned in kind by smearing mud on the walls of Sanbay anytime they went to the Kingdom.
Name calling turned into vandalism, and vandalism turned into thievery, and thievery was punished by unfair laws, laws that seemed to be harsher if you were a member of the other village, and unfair punishments turned into decrees, and before anyone from either place knew it was going to happen, King Daniel sent everybody home, and sent a mule and a man to the center of the bridge with a cart full of dynamite. The man lit the fuse and led the mule back to Springborough’s land.
The explosion that rocked the bridge was beautiful and both Sanbay and Fortis watched, delighted and frightful at the same time that the King was obviously very low on patience, and very well stocked in explosives.
All that seemed to be changing now as Jack had begun to discover. He had been walking the woods every morning, racing the sun, making sure he met the coast before the great hot ball of heat in the sky met the highest point above. And when the sun began falling, Jack would begin to return to Fortis. It was all a way to avoid being sunburnt as he could strategically remain in the shadows of the forest every day on these excursions. He would pack bread, salted beef, peanuts, and water for his journey, and he would come to the coast line and sit on the cliff, his legs dangling out from the rocks, crumbs from his bread tumbling hundreds of meters to the jagged rocks and white waters below.
On the other side of Oak Bridge, dozens of Sanbayians were using their skills to repair what had been destroyed. Jack had yet to tell anybody in Fortis about this, because at first, it didn’t seem like they would get very far. It seemed most of their materials fell, and ended up in the water. Sometimes a man would fall, and they would spend all day rescuing him or trying to find his body.
Recently, it did seem like they were making great progress. Beams of wood were purchased and nailed in place. Slowly, it looked like the two sides of the bridge would be connected again. At first, Jack looked on with joy and appreciation, but then Sanbay generals were showing up to inspect the work. And Jack knew, by the armies amassing behind the bridge work, that it didn’t look like Sanbay was coming in peace.