I was, of course, beguiled. But I was, simultaneously, annoyed: here (or there – or where, or when) I was sitting with this young woman from nowhere or somewhere or sometime and had in the last few minutes, or years, or millennia, been introduced by her to a tribe of people that I immediately adopted as my own, and then was snatched back to a time that looked like the present, except for the offset of a season – or maybe years – to yet again be bounced into somewhere else.
And once in somewhere else my companion had started telling me a story about some tree.
I have weird dreams, but if this was one of them it was the champion.
Those thoughts notwithstanding, the story continued.
“Luc shaded his eyes from the fully rising sun. The little wavelets that the early morning breeze was stirring on the river’s surface glinted like sparks flying from a blade being sharpened on a grind wheel. Immediately ahead of him was a grove of trees that almost but not completely hid the small stream that ran off of the butte to his right. The breeze was stirring the small stream as well as the river. Showers of sparks, albeit partially hidden by the trees, glinted through the shade of the little stream’s fringe of oaks. Luc pressed forward and into the grove and discovered that it was deeper than it had looked and was farther at its outer edge from the creek than it had looked at first sight. There were stumps of trees that had been cut and there were sections of trunks placed in neat triangular piles. One of the piles was less triangular, its top few layers having been removed, cut into short lengths and split into pieces that appeared to be intended for burning. A short distance from that was a huge pile of charcoal. And on the immediate bank of the stream, near its juncture with the river, was a structure unlike any Luc had ever seen.
It was round and was about the height of three men standing upon one another’s shoulders. It also must have been that size measured from wall to wall. And it was made of what appeared to be a kind of brick, although it was a brick of a cream color rather than the usual red color common to bricks. It had a small man-sized entrance. That entrance was the only apparent opening, the top of the structure appearing to be completely enclosed by a sort of roof made of the same cream colored bricks.
There was one other thing. And it was a really odd thing.
Half way up the wall on one side of the structure, apparently inserted into it through a sealed opening, was a device that looked as if it were a bellows. But such a bellows: Luc had never seen a bellows - if indeed that was what the thing was - anywhere near as big as this device.
“Maybe this man really is a wizard,” he thought to himself.
He didn’t need to wait long to find out. A very tall man with a very long beard appeared from behind the structure. He stopped, looked at Luc and said “are you lost, my friend?” And then he kept coming forward and put one hand on Luc’s shoulder. “Or are you the one I heard about last week?” His beard, Luc noticed now that the man was directly in front of him would be much longer if it weren’t for the multiple levels of singed whiskers that made up its periphery. The man was dressed in a single piece of some rough woven fabric and cinched at his waist with a thong of raw hide. He had some kind of leather hat, whitened by what must have been years of sweat welling up from beneath, with flaps that came down over the upper half of his ears. He didn’t look that different from many of the smiths that Luc had engaged in his quest for the blade, and his manner was so apparently open and jovially friendly that the idea of his being a wizard had vanished immediately.
“Who or what did you hear about last week?”
“I heard that there was a woodsman talking to the smiths in the city trying to get a great blade to cut a great tree. You look to be a woodsman. Are you that one?”
“I have certainly been trying to find a great blade, so I may be that one.”
“And why haven’t you found the blade you seek?” He removed his hand from Luc’s shoulder and used it and his other hand to make the palms up gesture of interrogation as he asked the question.
Luc thought for a moment. The reasons for not acquiring the blade had been many and varied. He sensed that a litany of all the reasons for his failure to get what he was after would not be the proper way to engage this very direct man to whom he was talking. So he pondered for a moment what would be a concise reply that would nonetheless document the problems he had encountered.
“Their metal isn’t strong enough is it?” the tall man said.
“No, their metal isn’t strong enough” Luc echoed back. “It can’t be made in one piece big enough for the job I need to do.”
“And what is that job?”
“My brother and I started to fell a great oak for our lumber business in the city. But our blade was not large enough to cut it through. So we had let leave it for the winter. We need a very long blade and none of the city’s smith’s can make one.”
“How long would that be?”
“You are tall. It would need to be two of you in length.”
“It must be in truth a great tree.”
“It is a great tree.”
“And you will make a great deal from its lumber?”
“A great deal. The buildings of Paris all need timbers such as we will make from it.”
“Is that how you would pay me – from those proceeds?”
“If you could produce the blade that is how we would pay you.”
“I can produce the blade.”
“Would it be one piece, not more than one melted together at a seam?”
“It will be one piece of a type of metal that only I know how to make. I sell it to warriors for their blades and to farmers for their ploughs. It can be made to be the blade of the great saw that you need.”
“How much would it cost?”
“I would take half of the proceeds for the lumber from the great oak.”
“That is very dear.”
“It may seem to be dear, but after you have the blade, you can cut many other such trees. And the fame of your blade and its special qualities will bring you much business. In the final cut it will be not so dear.”
“After I have the blade. Do pigs fly?”
“You doubt that I can produce such a thing?”
“Show me how it is to be done.”
The tall man said nothing, apparently pondering the situation and contemplating his reply. He took off his hat and retrieved something that had been tucked into some sort of pocket within. Luc noticed, now that his hair was fully revealed that the man’s hair was singed in many places in a manner similar to his beard.
“He must work very near flames” Luc thought to himself.
“This is the metal that only I know how to make.” And he handed Luc a small square sheet of a metal that was much brighter than iron and much lighter in weight.
“Give me the dimensions that you require and I will have it for you by month’s end. And there will be no deposit. I trust you to honor your bargain of fifty percent”
It was Luc’s turn to ponder. After all the trial and failure in getting the required tool for cutting the tree, after all the weeks and months that had passed causing the winter to quickly turn to spring, the time to return to the great oak and finish the task of bringing it down was nigh. The blade was theory, not fact, and if it became fact and if it were suitable to the task the price was high, but the time to act was rapidly approaching. What if someone else found the giant oak, and what if someone else could acquire a blade that could fell the tree? It was time to act.
“I will draw a picture. But I have a question. What is the purpose of the great bellows?”
“That is my secret. That is how I make the metal that will make your blade.”
When Luc had returned home and told his brother of the bargain with the man with the singed beard and singed hair Gerard was dubious.
“But at least there was no deposit” he said with a degree of irony.