Chapter 2 - Axes and Wood
We reached the edge of the forest, where Fern traced the outline of an axe. Before my very eyes, the shape fell out of the trunk, leaving an axe-shaped indentation that quickly disappeared. Fern hand me the axe, its blade was honed to a fine edge.
“You get wood and I’ll get something to hold the planks together,” she explained before taking off deeper into the forest. I watched her disappear into the gloom before taking a step back and examining the tree. It was thick, but it shouldn’t take all day.
“Thank God for dad’s survival lessons,” I muttered as I swung the axe back and drove it into the bark. As I worked, I thought about everything I knew about ancient Greece and it’s mythology.
There were twelve major gods called the Olympians. They ruled from Mount Olympus. The world was filled with hundreds of other minor gods. There was no electricity or phones. You had to pay a messenger to deliver something or you just went yourself. Each city-state was ruled by a different king that would have different laws. The world was filled with monsters like the Hydra or Minotaur.
On and on I went, striking the tree with each new piece of information I could pull from my mind. I was about halfway finished when Fern came back, carrying an armful of vines, roots, rope, and nails.
“Here,” she said, throwing an apple to me. She dumped her load on the ground and sat next to me, pulling out an apple of her own. As we ate in silence, I tried to remember something about Dryads and other Nymphs.
“Don’t... Dryads die when their tree is cut down?” I asked slowly, not sure if this was a forbidden topic or something.
“Yes,” Fern said simply. “Or burned or drowned. If a Dryad is connected to a bush or shrub, then ripping it out of the ground could also end in death.”
I was stunned that she spoke so calmly. As if this was just another part of her existence. Which, I guess it was.
“Are any of these trees...?” I let the question hang in the air.
“No. This forest is empty of my kind. The Naiad in the river likes to spend her time further downstream, towards the town.”
So she was alone in a beautiful paradise. No wonder she sounded bitter at the thought of me living in the town. To finally have company only for them to run away again.
“Well,” I said as I finished my apple, “As long as I’m not killing anyone, I should get back to work.”
Fern gave a small smile that made me smile as well. I picked up my axe and started to swing again, biting deeper into the trunk until it groaned in protest before falling to the ground with a loud rumble that shook the ground.
Fern, having some kind of elemental power, formed planks out of the wood while I chopped off the branches and throwing them in a pile behind me. Soon, we had enough wood to at least start building the foundations of a house.
“I’ll go start on another tree while you start planning the layout for the house,” I told Fern.
“You’d trust that to me?” she asked.
“Why not?” I shrugged. “I’m living on your property.”
She smiled at the thought while I made my way back towards the forest. “Wait!” she called out. I spun around to see what was wrong.
“I never caught your name,” I said.
I gave her a smile, “My name’s Drake Saunders.” I turned around and walked to the forest, a stupid grin plastered on my face.
I travelled deeper into the forest this time, wanting to find the largest trees for the house so I could use the smaller ones for other things, like furniture. When I found a nice big tree. Once again, I swung my axe into the trunk.
Nearly half-an-hour later, I was almost done when I heard a scream. I spun on my heel and raced back to Fern, thinking what it could be. Fire? Monsters? Wolves?
But when I reached the meadow, I saw a large, bulky man seizing Fern by the wrist. He held a huge axe in the other hand and he licked his lips with a hungry delight.
“HEY!” I shouted, running at him. He looked up and saw me, letting go of Fern. He held his axe in a grip that said he knew how to use it in more ways than just cutting down trees. I had a brief moment to register that the blade of his axe was carved from stone, while mine was completely wooden.
But it was too late to change my mind.
I leapt at the man, swinging my axe at him. But he stepped back and the blade sailed harmlessly past his face. “Stupid little shit!” the man spat. “You should learn to stay away!”
“And you should learn when to accept ‘no’,” I shot back, swinging my axe a second time. But the man just grabbed the handle of my axe with a big, meaty fist. He tore it out of my grip and threw it away.
Defenceless, I backed away. The man was just about to bring his axe onto my head, but his arm wouldn’t move. Confused, he looked around to see a gnarled root was wrapped around his wrist. Fern stood behind him, holding out her hands as if making sure the root held onto its prisoner.
“Drake!” she growled through gritted teeth. I understood immediately and snatched my axe from where it had been thrown. I held the blade, ready to strike. But I hesitated. Could I really kill this man in cold blood?
“Drake!” Fern cried, breaking through my thoughts. I snapped back to reality just as the man clawed the root off his arm. Before he could pick up his fallen axe, I cleaved through his arm, just above the elbow. The man screamed, clutching the stump as blood leaked through his fingers.
He fell onto his back, whimpering and cradling what was left of his arm. Fern and I stood on either side, looking down at him. “Leave,” I told him. “Or I’ll cut your head off next.”
The man crawled back before staggering to his feet. He stumbled backwards a bit before turning to run in the direction of the town.
Once he was out of sight, Fern threw herself at me, wrapping her arms around my neck. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you!” she gasped, her words mixing with each other until it was just a blur.
After a moment of surprise, I hugged her back. “You alright?” I asked feeling stupid for asking such a ridiculous question.
“I am now,” Fern replied, her response muffled by my shirt. We stayed there, like that, for what felt like a lifetime. When I finally became aware of my surroundings, the sun had finally set behind the hills.
I looked down to find Fern asleep, her feet had grown roots and planted themselves so she would have no problem sleeping right there, standing up. But something told me that I couldn’t just leave her like that all night.
So I gently dug into the dirt around her feet, freeing them. As soon as I lifted her out of the hole, the roots retracted back into her skin, leaving no mark to show they had ever been there. I carried her in my arms to her oak, her head resting against my chest and an arm holding onto my neck.
I didn’t know how to put her back into her tree, so I just laid her on the nest of roots I had awoken on that morning. Had I really only been in ancient Greece for a single day? It felt like weeks!
Once I was sure she was as comfortable as I could make her, I retrieved my axe and sat down next to her, ready to ward off any wild animals if I had too. But as soon as I sat down, the nest of roots moved until there was room for the two of us. Not sure if Fern was somehow controlling the tree in her sleep, I sat down next to her.
Fern’s head rolled to the side and landed on my shoulder. I smiled down at her and, before I could stop myself, gently leaned down and kissed her forehead. She murmured and smiled in her sleep like the kiss was part of a dream or brought with it a long-forgotten memory. Then I fell asleep beside her.