The Woodcutter and the Birdman

Jade Cocoon

By Artificer Urza

Deep in the mountains lay the land of Parel in which grew the Great Forest. Overlooking the forest on the mountain lay the village of Syrus. At the edge of this village, past the graveyard, grew a lone tree and beneath that tree sat an old man. This old man had come to sit beneath the tree for many years, as he was no longer fit for manual labor. However, the old man possessed a wealth of stories and knowledge he could pass on to the younger generation. He turned to his young audience, the children of Syrus, and eyed them quizzically.

"A beautiful day today..." The old man said. "What story do you wish to hear today?"

A flock of birds flew overhead and yet no one made a sound. The old man waited patiently as the children thought of a story they would like to hear. Suddenly a teenager spoke up; it was a youth named Kelmar, the son of the town blacksmith.

"Could you tell us a story about Kikinak?" He asked.

"The Birdman? Why would we want to hear about some stupid Birdman?" a crass boy named Lui said.

"Shut up, Lui." The girl Mahbu said. "I wanna hear a story about the Birdman."

"The Birdman Kikinak, is it? Are you all in agreement?" The old man asked.

He looked at all the children, his gaze resting, finally, on Lui, who merely crossed his arms and said nothing. Taking this as agreement on his part the old man thought about the story he should tell.

"I shall tell you about the Woodcutter and the Birdman." The old man smiled.

The children shifted to get more comfortable so they could listen to the story better.

"Once upon a time in a faraway village their lived a woodcutter who always boasted of his strength..."

*******

The village stood deep in the forest, the reason for this was because it was a woodcutter's village; the sole purpose of this village's existence was to provide wood to the outlying villages. Most of the village's inhabitants were woodcutters and good ones too. However, there was one that was said to be the best: he stood six feet tall and was broad shouldered. He had arms the size of the tree trunks he cut and a mane of black hair, he had black skin and a jovial smile. This woodcutter had but one flaw: he always boasted of his strength, he was a legend in his own mind. Day after day he went to the tavern to brag about his latest exploit.

"This village is prosperous because of my strength. I cut down the tallest trees and people beg for the lumber I bring in." The woodcutter would say.

Everyone admitted that he was indeed the best; his strength had provided the village with a comfortable way of life. They were growing tired of his continuous boasts, however, and they feared never to hear the end of it. They did not tell him to his face for fear of his great temper and subsequently the fact that he was terribly strong. Then one day when he entered the tavern again to boast of his strength, there was a stranger who challenged him. This stranger, whose face could not be seen because of a black hood, had been very quiet until the woodcutter arrived.

"You say you are the strongest?" One could hear the disbelief, the sneering tone in the stranger's voice.

"Aye, I do! There is no one stronger than me and there is no tree that I can't chop down!"

The stranger walked up to the woodcutter. It was obvious the stranger was not a small man, but he still only came up to the woodcutter's chest.

"Then perhaps you would care to prove it. Deep in the forest there grows a great tree, larger than any other. If you can cut it down and bring back proof that you did than I will believe your claims." The stranger said.

"HA!" The woodcutter exclaimed. "No tree stands a chance against my strength, but there are many in this forest; how am I supposed to know which one you're talking about?"

"In the center of the forest there is a marsh. In that marsh there is a tree that looks like its upside-down. That's the tree you're looking for. Of course, I don't think you'll even get that far let alone that you'll be able to cut down the tree." The stranger said in a sneering tone.

The woodcutter, greatly angered due to the insult to his strength, left the tavern, slamming the door on his way out. The door broke off its hinges from the force the woodcutter used.

"You just had to make him mad, didn't you?" The barkeep said to the stranger.

The woodcutter had made a brief stop at his home to retrieve and sharpen his ax; he would not be made a fool of.

Traveling farther into the forest than the woodcutter had before was a simple matter; even though there were no paths, the woodcutter could still navigate fairly easily in the deep forest. Light streamed through the canopy of the thick trees as the woodcutter walked through the forest. There was no wind in the thick of the trees, for no wind could move through the might trees, no sound existed save for the occasional animal chattering or bird tweeting. The woodcutter cared for neither the music of the animals nor for the beauty of the forest, only how much his strength could bring in, in terms of lumber. Every so often the woodcutter would hear sounds that he had never heard before in the woods; like small people giggling, but there was no one there. Leaves rustled and bushes shook, but nothing else happened.

The woodcutter had heard of fairies and pixies in the deep part of the forest but had never believed the stories. He began to turn at every sound, jumping at every movement, at every rustled leaf and bush. In his paranoiac fear, he turned suddenly and tripped on a rather large tree root and fell on his face. The sudden fall caused him to lose grip on his ax, which flew into the air and lodged itself into a nearby tree trunk. Looking dumbfounded at the root, the woodcutter started to laugh long and hard.

"You're imagining things. There's nothing out here that can match my strength." He said to himself.

He rose and retrieved his ax, brushed himself off and began once more to journey into the heart of the forest. The strange noises continued but the woodcutter neither jumped nor turned suddenly at them. He walked for a long time before he started to hear the voices; they were high pitched and it was impossible to tell if they were male or female.

"Who are you?"

"Where are you going?"

"What'll you do when you get there?"

These were the questions that were repeated over and over again. They irritated the woodcutter; it was no business of theirs who he was and where he was going, but he felt compelled to tell them anyways, if only to get them to shut up.

"I'm going to the marsh in the middle of this forest to cut down the upside- down tree!" He yelled at the surrounding forest. "And there's nothing you can do to stop me."

The woodcutter had underestimated the pixies and fairies that were the source of the voices. Word of the woodcutter's presence and purpose soon traveled to the upside-down tree. The tree, being the incarnation of the god Elrihm, understood the woodcutter's purpose and the tree sighed deeply, lamenting the woodcutter's foolishness and he continued to sigh. Before long the breath of the Great Tree became a thick and heavy fog, which shrouded the forest. The woodcutter walked through the fog undeterred and he soon lost his way. Looking around in the fog-enshrouded forest, the woodcutter searched for some type of landmark that would help him find the center of the forest, for he was still determined to prove his strength. He found nothing but endless trees, each exactly like the other.

Night fell and the woodcutter had still to find his way. Exhausted, the woodcutter sat down beneath a tree and took a short rest. Unbeknownst to the woodcutter, sweet smelling fluffs began to fall down from above. All who would smell their sweet scent would fall fast asleep. The woodcutter couldn't help but to fall into a deep slumber and there he lay, snoring great snores in the middle of the forest. His slumber was so deep he slept for three days. On the morning of the fourth day a strange individual came upon the slumbering woodcutter; it was a thin man with wings and a bird's head. He had a long yellow beak and large eyes with which he looked at the woodcutter. The birdman, called Kikinak, spoke to the woodcutter in a singsong voice.

"'I am the strongest' you always say! One fight with me if you may?" Kikinak sang.

Even with Kikinak speaking, the woodcutter remained fast asleep.

"You can try to sleep if you must, but I shall wake you with my dust!" As he spoke those words, Kikinak sprinkled a glistening powder upon the woodcutter.

With that, the woodcutter sneezed a great sneeze and jumped to his feet. Seeing the birdman before him the woodcutter glared, perceiving Kikinak as an enemy.

"Who on earth are you? I warn you I am terribly strong and I will fight you right now!" The woodcutter bellowed.

Kikinak looked at the woodcutter and laughed a crowing laugh. His laughing fit over, Kikinak spoke to the woodcutter again.

"You can't beat me, but if you do we can be friends and I'll share my powder with you. It cures all illness and turns old to new. I got it from the forest people called the Yamu!" Kikinak sang.

The woodcutter sprang at Kikinak and tried to cut him down with his ax. Despite his thin, bird-like arms, Kikinak was able to hold and wrench the weapon from the woodcutter's grip. Kikinak then pushed the woodcutter away. Furious, the woodcutter charged again. Kikinak jumped up to dodge the woodcutter but the woodcutter grabbed his legs to drag Kikinak down. Kikinak's eyes were sparkling with mirth at this attempt and he began to flap his wings furiously. Under normal circumstances the woodcutter might have been able to hold on but he had been asleep for three days and was too hungry to hold on. The force of Kikinak's wings flapping created a small whirlwind that trapped the woodcutter.

*******

"... With one flap of his mighty wings, the birdman blew the woodcutter all the way back to the village. The woodcutter told the villagers all about the birdman but not a soul believed him. From that day on the woodcutter never again boasted of his strength." The old man finished.

The children laughed at the story, some imitating the speech of the birdman, others pretending to be the boastful woodcutter. Levant, one of the children listening asked a question of the old man.

"Is any of that story true?" He asked, genuine curiosity in his eyes.

Before the old man could speak, Kelmar spoke up.

"Of course it's true!" He said.

"And how would YOU know, Kelmar?" Lui asked.

"Erm... Um... It's too ridiculous not to be true?" Kelmar said sheepishly.

The old man merely smiled at the children.