Druis, Idris and Vidar
“I tell you, there’s nothing here but me!”
“And I’m sure someone has taken liberties. It’s nothing particular, just something!”
Idris looked at Vidar, ” You’re always saying that!” he shook his head in resignation, ” I’ve been here all the time. Alone. Stackin’ wood, sortin’ it for charcoal or tinder or logs. Like you said. And here you are, come back with the pony and you reckon someone’s been at it! Well, it’s not me, nor anyone round here either!”
“Okay boy, keep it down. Whoever it was, I’ll find ’em. I’ll sort it!”
“Will you load ‘im?” Idris indicated the pony.
“No, it’s your turn.”
Idris managed to hold his tongue but compressed his lips and shook his head briefly, hoping Vidar wouldn’t notice. Luckily Vidar had already turned away, fingers raking through straggled beard as he peered once again around the coppice.
The pony was hoof-deep in the beck and picking at the cold water, the straps of the leather panniers over its back dangled down one side and drifted their free length in the current. Vidar turned, hands on hips to watch the pony. The birds, tight-clawed in the branches watched too.
Idris resigned himself to tying the faggots up before retrieving the now grazing pony to lash the bundles to its sides. No easy job for one but as Vidar was prowling round looking for strangers that didn’t exist, Idris struggled with the job.
“Don’t you look at me like that!” Idris muttered as the pony’s head turned towards him, baleful eyes separated by a wide forehead covered in a fringe of mane that continued like a ragged curtain from the top of its neck almost down to hock. The rest of his body, except where flattened by the blanket then leather cloth to protect him from cuts from the branches was also covered in long horse hair, curled and coiled at his joints. A winter coat that would soon need trimming, he hoped.
Vidar grunted a jump over the beck and rejoined Idris and lifted the other roped bundle with one hand, held it to the pony’s side while he quickly wrapped the dangling leash round it and hitched it around the two pommels at the front and repeated the action for the other two pommels, checking the carrier fitted tightly on the pony.
“Check the girth!” Vidar said abruptly and moved to their overnight fire. He spread the ash around as he checked it was out.
“As I always do.” Idris said very quietly under his breath. The pony inflated his chest as Idris bent to the girth, “You too eh?” And leaned against the pony’s side to unbalance it a little. The movement enabled him to feel the girth was tight enough to satisfy. He stood and moved to ruffle the mane on the neck before sliding his fingers through the halter and down to where the bit fitted.
The pony twisted head, lips and jaw in an attempt to catch the fingers pressed into the side of his mouth, which Idris adroitly avoided as usual. The bit rattled between the pony’s chewing teeth and it shook its head away again.
Vidar returned and checked the balance of the load again whilst conning around the clearing, still certain they had received an unknown visitor. Still no obvious signs, just his feeling that the ambience of the trees and wild-life had subtly changed in his absence.
“Let’s go then.” Vidar called to his brother who was busy collecting their belongings; bedrolls, pots and whetstones and twisting and tying them into bundles to hang from the shafts of their axes. Vidar waited, took his axe and bundle and hooked the head over one shoulder with the bulky parcel resting on his back. Idris did similar, took the hanging rein of the pony and the trio started off. All three of their loads swaying as they walked in step round the trees and thickets towards the track and in a hour or so, their farmstead.
“If the weather holds we can rope the logs and haul them tomorrow.” Vidar spoke first as they stepped onto the main track. “They’re too big to lift onto the cart, might as well just drag them all the way.”
Vidar turned and looked back, certain he could feel eyes watching all their movement. He saw nothing but felt a flicker between a clump of birch trees. Looked again and saw a shadow cast by the sun as it peered down on them from a break in the cloud.
If there was something there it was keeping itself secret and Vidar was fed up with chasing wisps of nymphs who should have known better. They would be back tomorrow with the horses, maybe some spare time to find whoever it was, if they were still there. His hackles would let him know.
Idris and the pony had continued so Vidar hurried to catch them up. He lunged up the bank to the edge of the raised track and his foot was supposed to strike firmly onto a tussock. It failed and slid between two. He stumbled, caught himself with one outstretched hand but lost his shoulder-load. Swearing, he righted himself and bent to retrieve the axe and bundle. As he did so he was sure he heard a girl’s laughter. His hackles rose, there must be someone close. Vidar turned slowly and looked behind, breathed in through his nose to detect the slightest change in scents.
He saw nothing but the sunshine glancing off white birch. His nose tingled slightly. The laugh was short, joyous and young but the direction was unclear. It was almost that he heard it in his head not through his ears. “Mischievous nymph!” He muttered in preference to swearing.
Vidar caught up with the swaying haunch and twitching tail of the pony as it picked its way along the uneven path . He squeezed passed the pony with its rhythmically swinging load, avoiding the waist high nettles at the side. At the pony’s head he looked across at Idris. Attention caught, Idris acknowledged the silent question with an exaggerated nod in the direction they were going. With a brief nod of thanks Vidar increased his pace towards their compound and his house. He retained composure until out of sight then began to jog as fast as possible, hindered by the bundle he had to carry. ‘Should have left it with the pony’, he muttered as it bounced uncomfortably on his shoulder.
‘Maybe you should have stayed at home!’ That voice giggled into his head again. He felt a catch of panic. He, the calmest one in the world. Or so Vidar often convinced himself. He lived for the forest, his working with the timber, the frequent silence of the pine forest but here, in this mixture of deciduous he was all too aware of the thrusting and fighting of the bird life amongst themselves not forgetting the creatures that paraded secretly in the undergrowth, not caring whether it was pine or beech as long as the ferns and brambles enabled them to blend. He didn’t worry that he only caught fleeting glimpses of deer or rabbit. Sometimes he would see a fox stock-still sniffing the air, maybe turning its head to acknowledge his presence. Then Vidar would feel the understanding of the fox at work, or ready for wasteful play. Empathy of a sort running through his own veins. But this voice! The infectious sweet giggle was new in his head.
He pounded on. The thump of feet on the compounded path was all he heard, his running had quieted the nearest birds. Out of the thinned trees and for the final few yards of paddock he slowed to a walk.
Druis was kneeling in the herb garden loosening weeds and letting them collapse and dry in the sunshine. She stood carefully, brushed her skirts clean of soil whilst watching the approaching Vidar. Smiled, keeping her face towards him.
Vidar maintained his pace and relaxed, smiled in response to her. His senses returning to normal as he approached the woman. He reached the timber cabin and slipped the bundle casually from his shoulder and leaned the axe on the stoop.
Druis, bright eyed and smiling still, reached her man and took his brown hands in hers then touched his cheek and forehead as if smoothing away a crease of anxiety. He lowered his head and felt the further relaxation of his body. Their foreheads met softly and his arm moved to her buttocks and pressed her to him.
She giggled and twisted aside. “Beer, then food. “ She said and skipped to the doorway where she stood. “But before!” She nodded toward the edge of the trees, “ there’s Idris!” and slid inside the house.
Vidar watched Idris and the pony walk towards the cabin on the raised pathway, offered a greeting as his brother led the pony to the stall at the side of the cabin. He went to help unload the wide bundles of faggots from the pony’s sides and remove the saddlery and harness. Vidar was about to offer Idris food and drink when he was hugged by his brother and, ”Until tomorrow. You need to be with that woman of yours.” A couple of mutual shoulder slaps and Idris marched off to his family cabin at the end of the clearing.
So many times he had watched his brother walk away to the old house and had felt the pleasure of being alone again, at the edge of the forest. For some years he had been chided for preferring his own company and the whispering of the trees as he worked. But that had changed. He had met the magical Druis in the forest’s grove of Lallam from where the beck leaped out of the limestone scarp. She had brought a lightness to his life. Entranced him, loved him that very first meeting and kept him company ever since. She kept their house, tended the garden and now carried their child.
Day by day, as her belly swelled, as the baby grew and moved, Druis would rest a little more and think of Vidar wandering, working, in their forest home. As Druis sorted and filtered the recent memories with those of her forebears into storytelling dreams, she could almost feel her child moving in unison with those dreams, feel the gurgling laughter of her little daughter and those fluttering footsteps over the woodland trails where the stories would lead. A secret she would love to share with Vidar. Soon.
She waited. Vidar pushed the door wide and heard the chuckling stream of laughter in his head before Druis beckoned him into her arms. As her belly pushed into him she had to lean her head back slightly for their lips to meet. She chuckled at the unbalancing position they were in and her voice mingled with the fragrant, childish laughter already in Vidar’s ears and running through their pressed bodies.
see also: The Frinks