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Chapter Three

The Woodshed

I woke up the next morning still facing the window. I leapt from my bed and ran to find Father. The morning sun had just come up as it was still somewhat early. Madeline was already awake and sitting with Mother in her chair on the porch.

“Where’s Father?” I asked in eager anticipation, “He is to tell us of the battle today.”

“He’s gone down to the tree to contemplate,” she answered, “and he said to send you both when you awoke.” Without hesitation, I jumped from the porch and dashed to the tree. Madeline chased behind. Father was sitting behind the tree facing the forest. When he saw us, he rose to his feet, took off his hat and combed his fingers through his hair. Holding his hat in his hands, he leaned against the trunk of the tree.

“Joshua, dear lad, I’ve been waiting. And you, Madeline, come and sit.” We moved around the massive roots protruding from the ground, situating ourselves for the visit with Father.

“Are you to tell us of the Sower’s battle with Otem, Father?” Madeline asked.

“Yes, we want you to finish the tale you began,” I continued.

“Let us begin, then,” he whispered as he leaned toward us with a smile. “I told you with great earnestness that Otem is real, though we thought he was dead. It would appear that he is not, for at this moment, if what the Council at Rodmilf proclaimed in its warning is true, he is alive and has become loosed in Center-Wood. It is only a matter of time before he regains his bearings. If he does, he will once again set his sights upon all of Ganchimi.”

“Where does he come from, Father?” Madeline asked.

“No one knows for sure. Some would say that he was once a man, a dark and sinister wizard who handed himself over to the desires of evil.  Others have said that he is directly from the Netherworlds, sent by Cael himself as a means by which to conquer and destroy all that is good. These chronicles may be true in a sense, for all bad things have their beginnings, but we are dealing with facts and not the fairytales given to gild the history for children. I do believe that Otem fought against the Sower and was destroyed, for so it is recorded in the Annals of our great land. However, the dragon with which we are dealing is a natural creature, one that was not always a dragon. It has been here all along, yet was brewed by something of which we are yet to discover.”

“Tell us of the battle between the Sower and the terrible Otem!”

“Ah, yes, the battle! You must hear of the battle. But first let us climb to the top of our Tree, for up there we can view our beautiful land in its splendor.” And so we did. Each branch closer to the top brought eager anticipation for what Father would tell us. Sitting down on a massive branch, we looked out over the vast landscape of Ganchimi.

“Do you see this fine-looking territory; all of the wonderful adornments that thrive so generously?”

“Yes, it is all very beautiful, Father,” Madeline smiled.

“There was a time,” Father continued, “when this was in great peril. The sun was darkened from the black smoke caused by Otem’s fiery rage upon Ganchimi. The landscape, blackened by his mighty fire, smoldered in the dim sunlight through the haze of ash and cinder. All seemed lost as the fierce dragon pursued the Sower to the edge of Center-Wood’s shoreline. It was here that burnished armor and scaly hide became fixed in battle. Shimmering steel and serrated claw weighed heavily against each other as the warfare raged with sinister strength. Blasts of fire spewed forth from the nostrils of the great beast, intent upon swallowing the brave Sower. Great heaves from his massive tail would cast the Sower to the ground, swelling clouds of dust and debris. The fires surrounding the scene grew hot with waves of intensity parching the waters that surrounded Center-Wood, leaving only the jagged valley that is still there today. Fighting what seemed to be a fruitless clash, the Sower climbed to loftier ground. From high atop a rocky peak, the Sower called forth to Otem with tauntings which enraged the ferocious monster. Baring his terrible teeth, the beast thrashed his body against the rocks, shaking the foundations as he dashed upward toward the Sower. Lashing his tail and pitching his claws, he attacked violently over and over again, each blow being defended by the Sower. In the last moment of battle, as Otem lunged forward, the Sower thrust his sword into the beast’s throat, causing a shrieking roar and the dragon’s blood to spatter upon the rocks. With this fatal wounding, Otem fell to the rocks below. But he was not to die there. He gathered his strength and lumbered up the edge of the valley and into the forest of Center-Wood. The Sower, bloodied and tattered, followed Otem eventually ensnaring the beast at the edge of the Pit of Scarmd. With swift blows of his sword and grand snarls, the Sower attacked. The sword came down again and again, at last becoming lodged in the thorny back of the beast. Writhing from the final blow, Otem arched his colossal body, pulling the sword from the Sowers hand and knocking his shield away. With this, Otem stumbled clumsily and rolled backward into the pit, falling into the thick blackness of his cavernous grave. And so it was that Otem was never seen again.”

“How is it that Otem has been reborn?” Madeline asked in a flush.

“How do you know these things, Father?” I continued, “Did you hear them from your father?”

“Tis true, lad, I did. And he heard them from his father and so on,” he said as he glanced at me, offering a quick wink. My eyes grew wide, for I knew the meaning of his glance.

“It has long been said that Otem would one day return and that Ganchimi would require a champion, one who would guard the land and see to the Vasiors. It is in the bloodline of the Caretakers to provide the defenses for this battle and to produce such a hero. I am of this bloodline.”

“Then we are of this bloodline, too,” I said, “and we shall be required to fight!”

“Indeed,” said Father, “You are of this line, but not all Caretakers are required to be enjoined in battle. Only one will be chosen to fight and slay the dragon. The others will join the encampments that keep the dragon at bay. And we mustn’t be too haughty as to think that any of us shall be the one chosen. I know your Mother would be greatly displeased with such a choice.”

“But I can fight,” I said in my defense, “And I have courage more than the other boys my age!”

“Yes you do, for I know of no other family in all of the provinces with children who climb to the top of their great Vasior without fear. And yet here you are! You are the only children for such a daring task!” With this comment, Madeline and I smiled at Father.

The sun was rising and getting quite hot, so we journeyed back down the tree for breakfast. On the way back to the house, Father stopped at the woodshed to gather some kindling to restock the pile near our front door.

“Joshua, lad,” Father called. “Would you like to join me in carrying some wood?” Madeline skipped ahead, up the porch steps and into the house.

“Yes, Father,” I said and returned to help him. While holding a stack of kindling in his arms, he held the door open with his foot. The sun shone through the doorway casting a bright beam upon the woodpile within.

“Get the wood from the back of the shed,” Father said pointing to a particular portion of the pile, “That wood is older and in need of being used.” With this I moved to the back and reached over the logs to grab from the pieces to which Father had directed me. It was easy to see in the dark room with the sunlight still beaming through the doorway. And then something caught my attention. Beneath a few logs I could see something reflecting the sunlight, something hidden beneath the wood pile.