Evergreen

Man with a sword in a forest

Evergreen is a plant
that grows new leaves
before the old ones
have fallen off.
(From a botany lecture)



Just yesterday Wolferlagen had entered his fifteenth spring and today his elder brother patted him on the shoulder and said: “Well, the time of fun and dance is over, let’s go get you a sword”.

His name was Wellinbrock, Wellin for short. A giant two meters tall, he had a massive two-handed sword to match his strength and height. The sword’s name was Sargan. Wolf remembered her young and yellow, almost golden. Now her colours have faded, golden glitter replaced with the first silver streaks.

Sargan has always been Wolf’s boyish dream. Alas, mother nature gave him neither height, nor strength to wield such a mighty weapon. The older he got the more his concerns grew: what if he will be given not a sword, but a dagger like his sister? Of course, Wellin always said that any weapon is worthy of respect and a master with a dagger might yet surprise master with a sword, but these words didn’t make Wolf feel much better.

Brothers set out in the morning. They packed light: just some food and water. Wellinbrock took his sword with him. Wolferlagen, who didn’t yet have one, took his staff.

Staves grew in Whiteface Grove and were the first weapon children got in their life, at the age of eight. Wolferlagen remembered his eighth Birthday well, from the celebration itself to the hour when he entered the Grove with his father (may he ever be merry in the Heaven’s Army!) His name was Wolferlagen as well, but people usually called the son Wolf and his father - Lagen.

Wolf and Lagen went through most of the Grove that day, past all the slender white staves, straight and perfect, each crowned with a heap of leaves and flowers. Finally, father had shown Wolf the staff that was his. The boy fell in love with his first weapon instantly and barely let it out of his hands for a couple of weeks even after they got covered with bloody blisters. He thought he was playing, yet unknown for him, the staff was teaching him, little by little.

Now Wolf was so good with his staff he wouldn’t be scared to bring her to a sword fight. The staff’s name was Tilto.

The brothers camped near the river to break their fast and rest for a while. Wolf sat on the ground, his staff close by. Tilto seemed sad to the boy and he tried to find words to console her.

“I’m not going to leave you forever, Tilto,” he said stroking the white wood of the living staff gently. “Swords, they are are for war. When you go for a walk, or to pick berries, or to a market, you need a staff. See? There will always be a place for you beside me”.

Yet words were not enough. Tilto’s sadness (or was it Wolf’s?) seemed to be in the air. Soon, a cold drizzle of a rain accompanied it. Brothers moved their little camp under the trees then and folded their cloaks about themselves for warmth.

The patch of fir trees that had sheltered them was the only green spot for many kilometers around. The spring was too young yet, all dirt and bare branches, muddy roads and dead grass.

“It’s always green,” said Wolf absentmindedly and tugged on the fir’s green paw. “Why’s that, Wellin? All other trees shed their leaves in autumn”. “These too,” the elder brother smiled. “See?”

Wolf looked at the thick carpet of dry needles under his feet and felt stupid.

“And yet somehow they stay green all year,” he said.
“They do,” Wellin nodded. “The thing is, they grow new leaves even before the old ones have fallen off”.
“Leaves…” Echoed Wolf, lost in thought. “Like needles...”
“Like swords,” his brother corrected him.

The journey by the road took two days. They turned to the Sword Mountain afterwards. It was a joyous, bright spot of colour amid the grayness of the early spring, a mountain covered with a magnificent forest of conifer trees of all sizes: from little ones, just two-three human heights tall to giants scraping the skies with their crowns. These were the trees where the swords grew.

“This is our family tree,” announced Wellin finally when they stopped near one of these skyscrapers. “Your sword is somewhere up there. Go get it”.
“How will I know which is mine?” asked Wolf, bewildered.
“She’ll call you,” Wellin reassured him. “No go. I’ll be waiting here”.

Wolf put his bag down, rolled up his cloak and gave it, along with his staff, to Wellin to keep.

“Keep Tilto safe,” he said.
“Sure,” replied Wellin, suddenly so serious. “Good luck, Wolf”.

For the first time in his life Wolferlagen had really been on his own, utterly alone against something he couldn’t understand.

He climbed higher and higher. No one called for him yet. One meter more, one minute more, one cut on the hand more, he kept climbing up, to the very top, to the sun itself.

He reached the height where air turned cold and thin and the pine smell was so strong it made him dizzy. He yearned for the mysterious call, yet none came. The woods were silent. The thoughts in the boy’s head weren’t…

Brave-and-almost-adult Wolferlagen climbed another branch up and fell upon it, dead tired, his legs and arms hanging down from the giant branch’s sides. He just wanted to close his eyes for a moment, and it indeed seemed like a moment, yet when he opened his eyes again the world was dark.

A thick mass of sharp needles moved in the darkness, stirred by wind, each one a perfectly balanced sword, all together - a monster from beyond the night.

Wolferlagen reminded himself that there hadn't yet been a person who had left the forest without her or his weapon and stuck with just a staff for life. It made him feel better.

Wolf stood up, drew himself up to his full height and took a good long look at the branches around him. “Something yellow is there,” he noticed and moved toward it at a slow and careful pace.

The needle that got his attention was very dry and ready to fall. Each gust of the wind made it quiver, yet, miraculously, it still stayed in place. It was so bright it shone through the darkness, yet its light touched no other needle and created no shadows. Recognition, followed with fear, struck Wolf right there and then. He moved dangerously fast now, afraid to lose his sword to the wind, fate, whatever else. He knew there wasn’t much time left.

He had just a couple of steps to go when a rogue gust of wind had thrown the needle down...

Everything happened so fast Wolf had no time to think about it. One moment he heard the call, a frightened cry of the sword (his sword!) in his mind, the next moment he lunged forward and grabbed it by the blade.

When the ability to think returned to the boy he looked down cautiously, ready to say farewell to his fingers and embrace the pain, but no such thing happened. His fingers, black with sticky pine oil, were unhurt and firmly stuck to the blade. Wolf lifted it up and realized why he was so lucky: the blade had just one cutting edge, the other edge was blunt.

Yellow (the first silver streaks will appear years later) living steel of the sword shone in his hands. It was a katana, that’s how the warriors of the Fire Island call them, the most beautiful weapon in the world!

Wolferlagen felt tears of happiness rolling down his cheeks. He whispered, totally realizing how stupid he sounds talking to a southern sword in his nothern tongue, giving her a nothern name: “Ire… Ire, I’ve found you…”

The sword shone through the darkness, for him alone.

(May, 4, 2003)

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