THE WOODCUTTER CONUNDRUM

A SANTHARIAN PARABLE

 
The Frethoni Book of Fables   
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Introduction. Fable No. 73, ca. 500: Among the best known fables in northern Santharia is "The Woodcutter Conundrum". It tells the story of two youths, both woodcutters, who shunned each other on principle - they never spoke, always went their own ways. But one day they are both surprised by a fierce snow storm when out in the woods. The race to get home safely has begun... Will they make it? Well, yes. And no.

 

t is said that up north, on the Suarezian Gulf, close to the Calmarios Wood, there once lived two youths in the village of Nordril. The one was named Jenem and Moraec the other. Both had chosen to become woodcutters, for that was a respected and profitable trade in these parts of the lands, even more so as Nordril wasn’t a particularly large settlement and every helping hand was needed to get people through the winter.

The odd thing about the two: In spite their living in the same village the youths rarely met. If it happened nevertheless, they didn't care much about what the other had to say. Now nobody could be sure why this was so, and it didn't actually bother anyone as long as they both did their work. And their work they did well. Some say the reason for their mutual enmity dated back to a tavern fight they once had; then there are those who suggest they both wooed the same girl a while back; yet others claim that one snatched work from the other once, which made the other pay it back the same way of course and so it had continued ever since. Maybe there's even some truth in all of these stories; well, put together, there sure is an argument why they wouldn’t see eye to eye. Alas, we will probably never know what drove a wedge between the youths, and maybe it isn’t that important after all. But the fact remains that they both ignored each other. Well, such things happen, I’m told. They wouldn’t be the first at that.

Now one day in early winter when it was already cold outside but no snow had fallen yet, Jenem and Moraec went out in the woods. As so often in times like these the boys were supposed to collect firewood for the hearths in the harsh days to come, and thus they took their handcarts and followed the road along the Calmarios in search of a good spot to pick up some lumber. It wasn’t unusual that they both left early in the morning – it was still Lightthrive – and so they chanced upon each other that day too. It was at the small bridge spanning a small creek leading out of the village where they met. However, Jenem nodded only briefly when he saw Moraec without speaking a word, and Moraec did likewise, which was as much socializing as you might expect from the both of them. So off they went, on their separate ways, each heading for different parts of the wood. All that we’ve learned from the Black Butterfly Rovers by the way, who had made camp near the creek.

About an hour after their encounter, when they were already deep in the wood, a chilly wind suddenly came upon them hailing from the craggy cliffs of Dragon's Maw. Believe you me, so fierce was the grip of the unbidden visitor on any human out there that it pierced marrow and bones! The gusts rubbed against the faces of the youths, teared on their hair, crept under their coats, burdened their every movement. Yet they were only first harbingers of what was about to befall the woodcutters, who suddenly found themselves in painful lack of a warm hearth back home in Nordril. While the youths were freezing and shivering, Jenem and Moraec nevertheless were adamant that a strong breeze wouldn’t keep them from finishing the work they had started. Thus, despite the darkening skies, they continued on, steadfastly defying the weather whims. – Alack, what an error of judgement that was!

For very soon afterwards the skies opened and large snowflakes began swirling down from the murky infinity above. First the snow only lent the landscape a beautiful picturesque touch, but after a while the it poured down thick and heavy. What had started off as a white blessing turned so intense that at one point it became almost impossible to see more than a couple of peds ahead. Within minutes everything was coated with snow. The gusts kept coming unabatedly, grew into gales. An inconvenient windy affair now was a nothing but a full-fledged blizzard.

There was no point in carrying on with the work. The wood they were meant to pick up disappeared more and more right before their eyes under a quickly mounting layer of white: Time to turn back! For a while Jenem still tried to drag his heavy cart along with him, but it eventually got stuck in the slush. There was no way to take it with him, so he left it there; he’d have to return for it later. Moraec didn't even try. With each step his feet sunk in the emerging snowdrifts that paved his way, appearing like frozen waves on open sea. As each of them fought their own fight they both saw the shape of the other somewhere in the distance, struggling through the snow. It lasted only a brief moment, then they lost sight of the other completely, and each drudged along by himself, surrounded by the raging storm, back the way he had come.

Did any of them return home safely? I hear you ask.

Well, Moraec did. It was a long, arduous journey back home in the storm, facing the wind, the snow and his weariness that kept mounting with every move he made. Exhausted – his face, hands and toes half frozen – he at last arrived at the cottage of his parents. His mother, worried since she had heard the wind rattling the shutters and seen the first snowflakes come down, thanked the Gods for having him back, hugging her son fervently. Immediately she served him a hot Northman's pot to warm his ice cold bones up a bit. While he ate, Moraec recounted everything he had experienced out there in great detail to his father: how sudden it had happened that the snow covered the ground, how he hadn’t even been able see the trees anymore in all the snow, how he had been lucky to glimpse the bridge, a trusted landmark that helped him find the way back home… – When he was done eating he looked out of the window, where the snow storm still hadn’t let up, listened to the whistling, the soughing and howling of the fierce gale, its whipping against the trees, and the branches brushing against the window panes, and he watched how the snow piled up and up outside. He had made it.

So what about Jenem then?

Loud thuds on the door sent a shiver down the spine of Jenem's sister who was knitting in her humble abode at the time. Výalla, anxious that something might have happened to her dear brother, opened the door, and was instantly relieved when she saw him standing there. His face blue, hands stiff like a wooden puppet’s, Výalla tended to the more than welcome returnee instantly. She rubbed him with a warm towel, put more logs on the hearth and his feet in a washing bowl with hot water. "Come and rest,” she said, “I'll make some tea!" Jenem smiled back at her and he too began to recount the events of his adventurous day: how sudden it had happened that the snow covered the ground, how he hadn’t even been able see the trees anymore in all the snow, how he had been lucky to glimpse the bridge, a trusted landmark that helped him find the way back home… Aye, Jenem had made it too.

Alas, the story doesn't end here, my dear listeners!

For a few hours later, shortly after the storm had ceased, villagers of Nordril made a gruesome find: the bodies of Moraec and Jenem. They lay not too far away from the bridge, right there where they had met in the morning, both frozen to death, and quite close to each other too.

Now how was this possible? you might wonder. And why did a tragedy like this have to happen?

The Black Butterfly Rovers who had seen them leave say that they never saw Moraec and Jenem cross the bridge on their way home. One of them who knew how to read the cards and claimed to see into the future and the past, was sure that if at all only their ghosts returned to their families. Their families however, Jenem’s sister Výalla and Moraec’s parents, both insisted that the boys had visited them for real, but that both of them had taken their coats and left again soon after their safe arrival back home. Neither Moraec nor Jenem had explained what they were about to do out in the cold or where they were heading. Only that they'd forgotten something. The villagers of course are still debating to this very day what that something might have been and whether they ever found it…
 


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Parable written by by Artimidor View Profile