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Chapter Five

Beneath the Woodpile

I waited until Father was no longer in sight and then ran to the woodshed. Madeline followed.

“What’s wrong with you, Joshua?” Madeline complained, “You’re acting strangely.”

“There’s something in there,” I said, “Something under the woodpile.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I saw it this morning when I was retrieving wood with Father.”

“What is it?”

“Of that I’m not sure, but I shall go in and search until I discover it.”

“Oh, no, we are not to play near the woodshed! Mother has forbidden us.”

“But Father has instructed us to lop down the Liput tree and put it into the woodshed. How are we to keep this responsibility without going in and preparing a place for the stack?”

“Perhaps it was that Father was not thinking. He would not want us to go against Mother’s rule.”

“I don’t think so. Why would he tell us to brave something that Mother considers dangerous? He wouldn’t do such a thing without purpose.”

“What possibly could he intend for us, Joshua?”

“Perhaps Father intends for us to discover what he’s hidden under the logs,” I said while lifting the latch on the door. Madeline kept speaking her unenthusiastic words, but I excluded her voice from my thinking.

“Joshua!” Madeline exclaimed, “You mustn’t!”

“Shhhhh!” I shot back in an angry whisper, “You’ll rouse Mother and she’ll come for both of us.”

“I’m not going in!”

“Very well, then. I shall go alone.” I pulled open the door and peeked around its edge. The wafting smell of dank timber filled my nostrils as the door creaked further. I could see the dust hovering in the shafts of sunlight coming through the windows and resting on the log pile. The sun had moved and was no longer spotlighting the doorway, but it was still bright enough to dispel much of the darkness. I walked in slowly, turning to the left I saw father’s axe. The portion of the shed to which I would venture was in the back and to the right. I would need to maneuver around the pile as I did before and find the exact section.

The pile was bulky, an extremely substantial collection of lumber. Yet, the section to which I would explore was moderately lean, maybe only a few layers deep. Strangely, one would think that as wood is brought into the shed, it would be stacked high in the back and become shallower as it approaches the front. But this pile was more or less free-standing, one that had shallow layers of wood behind it and could be easily traversed by going around to the right of the mound.  The wood had purposely been stacked this way. I had never noticed this peculiarity in the pile before, but now it seemed rather obvious. I am sure that Father was in the woodshed late last night after the dryad delivered the warning from Rodmilf. I am sure that he was moving the logs. But why?

I made my way around the logs and found the spot where I had gathered wood earlier in the morning. Because the sunlight was not shining in the same place as before, I could not see anything reflecting through the scattered dimensions of the wood.

“Joshua?” Madeline called softly through the doorway. She had begun to grow interested in the affair. “Where are you?” Her eyes had not yet adjusted to the darker ambiance.

“Here,” I called from the back corner, “Help me to move these logs to the other side of the pile.” I began to grab pieces and to toss them to the front of the pile.

“Mother is going to come out at the ruckus and you will surely get a switch to your rear,” Madeline taunted.

“But you have come in and joined the ruckus, so now you are equally guilty,” I said pointedly.

“How dare you say such a thing! I was merely coming in to warn you of Mother’s rule.”

“But now you have broken it, as well, little Madeline.”

“I am not little! And I am as brave as you!”

“Then quiet your tongue and prove your courage by helping me to move these logs.” Madeline considered my daring words. Taking a moment to peek back out the doorway toward the house, she could see that Mother was nowhere to be found. She turned and starting picking up the logs, “I’m only in here because Father has ordered this task.”

“As you wish, little Madeline.” And with that final prod, she worked feverishly to keep up with the logs I was pitching.

We worked a few minutes to reorganize the pile when finally the dim light began to show what seemed to be something made of metal.

“I found it!” I said excitedly and dropped to my knees to push the last few logs away.

“What is it?” Madeline asked with eager interest and rushed to where I was kneeling. I brushed the wood dust and dirt from its surface with my palm. I could feel the highly wrought texture of its face as my fingers scooped the chips and filth.

“I don’t know,” I said softly. My eyes caught what appeared to be a hinge near one of the corners. “I think it’s a door,” I said and started to look for the edges. Finding the corners, I noticed that I hadn’t removed enough wood to actually open it, and from its size and texture, it looked quite heavy. Madeline knelt down beside me. I continued to explore with my fingers the elaborate designs fixed upon the metal. Madeline reached over and brushed a bit away, uncovering the raised ornament of a dragon set against a fiery background. Seeing this, I joined her by brushing away more of the dust. My effort uncovered a warrior. Clad with sword and shield, the knight was pit against the towering serpent. We sat for a brief moment, enchanted by the unearthing.

“We must remove the rest of the logs so that we can open it,” I said staring with intensity at the design.

“Yes, we must,” Madeline replied in a voice that revealed her fascination. Without moving her eyes away from the finding, she groped for the other logs as if she were blind.

“Madeline. Madeline!” I shouted, “Help me to move the logs.” She shook her head as if released from a trance and helped to toss the logs aside. I ran my fingers along the edge of the door to clear away the remaining debris and came upon a bronzed handle, one I hadn’t yet discovered because of the wood that had been previously laying upon it.  Still on my knees, I sat back and gazed at the discovery.

“Shall we open it?” I asked Madeline while giving her a nudge, “or shall we leave it undisturbed?”

“Won’t Father be angry at our snooping, Joshua?”

“We’ll be swift,” I said rising to me feet, “We’ll just open it to see what’s held below. After a quick look, we’ll close it up and restore its previous condition.”

“Are you sure we can open it?” Madeline questioned as I reached down and grabbed the bronzed handle, “It does look very heavy.” It took a significant exertion of strength, but I managed to lift the door up from the soil, leaving a small gap that drew a gust of dusty air. Another sturdy lift with my legs and I pulled the door up and over, enough so that it dropped onto the wood stack. It crashed into the pile throwing dust into the streams of sunlight. Waving the lofty powder away, we once again dropped to our knees. Leaning over the edge of the new unearthing, we drew close and peered inside.