Finding The Soul Bridge (The Soul Fire Saga Book 1) (4 page)

BOOK: Finding The Soul Bridge (The Soul Fire Saga Book 1)
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“Quick! The jars!” shouted Jem.

Jem and Thist hurried to gather as much of the goo as possible.

“Take your time Thist. There is much more than we can carry so just get hum, we don’t want nest.”

The two boys worked frantically for a while until Thist said, “My jars are full.”

“Then eat your fill! It’s really good. No, don’t eat too much - we have to go swimming in a moment.” said Jem.

“Don’t animals eat this stuff? I mean, if it’s this good?”

“They don’t know how to deal with the ants I guess.”

“Your father taught you a lot about the forest, didn’t he?!”

Jem sighed. He missed his father in many ways.  “Yes, he did.”

“Did he think of this rope trick or did your grandfather teach him? It’s a nifty trick.”

“No, it’s my own idea. Let’s go.”

“How many times have you done it like this?”

“It was the first time.” said Jem with a grin. “The whole thing was my idea; the ropes, the pulleys, the fire, pulling the nest down. Most folk use shovels and get chewed to bits.”

“Well aren’t we the master.” mocked Thist. “Let me just step aside to allow your head some space.”

Jem filled his last jar, capped it and shouldered his loaded rucksack.

Thist made a ducking motion as if avoiding Jem’s head, and made a rubbing motion with his hands as if rubbing Jem’s head but with his hands wide apart. Jem tried to swat Thist on the head but he ducked away and said, “Careful with your head, and by the way, how’s your face?”

“It’s itchy, probably just healing.”

The boys walked the short distance to the waterfall while discussing their plans for their coming journey. As they reached the waterfall Thist seemed to hesitate. “Do you feel that?”

“What?”

“I don’t know, just that strange feeling that there is something about this waterfall, as if there is some energy or magic in it.”

“There is no magic, buddy.” said Jem, becoming irritated.

Thist snorted. “Humph. One day I will be the world's greatest magician and then I will show you things that you never knew you never knew.”

“There is something magical about this waterfall. It’s full of
diamonds!
” Jem held up his hands in a queer gesture that people made when signalling the handling of money, palms close to his face and his thumbs rapidly touching all his fingers. “Can you feel the profit, Thist? The profit!”

“You’re going to have to prove they are diamonds first. And you’re going to have to get some first.”

“Well, let’s get to it.”

Thist looked at the water. “Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to try.”

Jem made his sign of money again.

“Money isn’t everything, Jem.”

Jem lost his grin and looked away as if saddened by memories. “It is if you don’t have any.”

Thist nodded. Jem was of the less fortunate boys in the town. After his father had died, life had become tough; his father’s hunting had been their livelihood. His mother tried to peddle her wares in the town, but many of the things she tried to sell were available in the forest, or too hard for her to come by to make profit often enough.

Thist looked at his long-time friend, “You know we are going to change that soon enough, don’t you?”

Jem nodded. “Yes.”

He stripped off his clothes as if they were on fire and dived in. Jem swam down to the bottom of the plunge pool with purpose. He reached the bottom and grabbed two big handfuls. He turned and pushed himself toward the surface marked by the bright light of day. He broke the surface with a gasp and a shout of victory. “Man! That was invigorating.”

Jem opened his hands and revealed two handfuls of brightly shining stones; he moved to their bags and put them in a small pouch he had brought for the purpose.

“You’ve got to try it Thist, it’s so rewarding.”

Thist stripped down and joined Jem in the plunge pool. “Oh man it’s cold, damn you and your stinking profit.”

“Come on, one minute and you’ll be used to it. Put your head under, it will help.”

Thist dived down and came up quickly, “It feels refreshing.”

Thist drank some of the water and then grabbed his left temple as the cold went to his head.

“See if you can get some diamonds, I want to fill that pouch.”

Thist took a deep breath, then exhaled it like Jem had shown him. He took another deep breath and dived. Thist could feel the cold water on his eyes as he swam down, the bottom seeming to elude him as he grabbed for it. He kicked harder as his breath seemed to protest at being held for so long. Thist grabbed two handfuls and made for the surface. It seemed so far and now with his hands full of treasure he was only using his legs, but triumph he must, even if only to show Jem that he could also do it. Jem had told him it was as much a matter of skill in the mind as it was of body. But his body wanted to breathe. How did Jem do it?

Thist breached the surface with a shout of victory. His hands were still clenching the evidence of what he had grabbed at the bottom.

Thist looked around. “Jem?”

“Look behind you.” said Jem.

Thist turned to the sound of Jem’s voice right behind him. His elbow bumped Thist’s shoulder when he turned in the water. Thist saw another bear standing at the edge of the water. His sudden appearance from the water and his shout of victory had caused the bear to pause and rethink his next move. Both boys were naked, and the bear was standing on the same side as their clothes and rucksacks.

“Can bears swim?” said Jem.

As if to answer Jem’s question the bear stepped closer to the water and pawed at the water, testing its depth and temperature. It then made a few false lunges, hesitating in its decision and tormenting the boys. “We’re trapped.” said Thist, stating the obvious and looking at the high rocks at the other end of the plunge pool.

“Thist!”

Thist turned to Jem with a panicked look on his face. “What?”

“Scream. Scream like you’ve never screamed in your life before.”

Jem covered his ears and shut his eyes.

Thist turned; his eyes filled with tears as he focused on the bear, his heart raced as he exhaled all his air and drew breath as if it was his last, for indeed it could be.

Jem heard the sound of the forest fade and disappear and everything seemed quiet.

Thist opened his mouth, his lips pulled back over his teeth and his cheeks rode up his face causing his eyes to become narrow slits. A sharp light emanated from Thist’s right eye and then it came, like a sound from the lowest hell, Thist screamed like tortured demon fodder.

Jem’s body jerked as if he had been hit by lightning, his hands splashed in the water as he tried to stabilized himself. Thist screamed to the extent of one full breath. Jem felt as if someone had plunged two sharp daggers deep into his ears and the points were grinding on each other in the centre of his head.

The bear reared up and moaned as it miss-stepped, lost its balance and fell forward. The bear landed face down in the plunge pool causing a huge splash. Jem choked and thrashed in the water like a drowning cat. Thist grabbed Jem by the arm and pulled him to the side, letting his arms rest on the rocks as he caught his breath.

He pushed at the floating bear and it lodged itself in the plunge pool outlet.

“Are you all right Jem?”

“Oh no.” moaned Jem, “My head!”

Suddenly there came a loud splat sound like something soft and wet striking the ground nearby, then another and another. Jem and Thist looked up to see a small flock of geese falling from the sky.

Jem turned to look at Thist, “You killed them too?”

“Yes.” said Thist as he pointed to the ground a little distance away. “Look over there, I got those squirrels, those finches and I nearly got you too. I guess if you were in front of me I would have. What do you say?”

“I say we get out of this forest, and don’t scream again even if I tell you to.”

Jem clambered out of the water, sat down on a dry rock and held his head.

Thist held a jar toward Jem. “Have some hum. It should help for that headache.”

“It sounds like you’re losing your voice.” said Jem.

“It does, doesn’t it? But I’ll tell you what I haven’t lost, my appetite, and those geese look ready for plucking.”

Jem looked at the geese. “I’ll get a fire going.”

In a matter of minutes the boys had goose cooking on hand-held sticks.

“Man this feels good.” said Jem as he held the pouch of diamonds in one hand and the jar of hum in the other. “Two victories in one day.”

“Three.” said Thist as he pointed to the bear.

6

 

 

Jem winced.

He was just trying to escape out of the back door when his mother caught sight of him. The thought of his mother scolding him again was enough for him to want to become religious. “Maybe I should join a monastery.”

“What was that, Jem? What did you say?” shouted Jem’s mother.

“I’m just thinking aloud Mom.”

“It’s thinking too much that gets you into trouble so often.”

Jem’s mother had been taking him to task for a week because of his trip to the forest the previous week. He and Thist had snuck
out of town in the early hours of the morning in poor light, which was forbidden. They had told nobody where they were going or when they would be back, which was also forbidden.

“Rules are rules, Jem. They are there for our protection. You need to learn where your place is, and to be in that place when you have to be there.”

“I don’t want to work for Maxwell. That man is a tyrant.”

“That’s Mr. Iron to you Jem. You will show him proper respect, and I know he is a tyrant. That’s why I am sending you to him. So that he can teach you some discipline, even if he has to beat it into you.”

Maxwell Iron was the town blacksmith, a tall burly man with a thick black beard, black hair and a commanding voice. Everyone was frightened of him. He worked his apprentices hard and he shouted at them all day.

“Mom, I have to go and talk to Thist.”

“About what?”

Jem stammered, “It’s…”

“Yes?”

“Well, it’s confidential, Mom.”

“That’s exactly my point, Jem. You’re hiding something from me and that means that you and that wretched boy are up to mischief.”

Jem couldn’t bring himself to deny it so he kept quiet.

“Put on some old clothes and get ready to go to Mr. Iron.”

Jem went to his room and sat on his bed thinking. Kaylah came past the window and handed a letter through it. Jem took the letter and gave her one back. Jem and Kylah had taken to writing letters to each other after Jem’s mother had grounded him. He couldn’t see any of his friends, and Jem thought this was cruel, but he did understand how his mother felt. She was only doing this because she loved him and wanted to protect him in the only way she knew how: keeping him busy and out of mischief.

Jem put the letter in his knapsack and dressed in something he didn’t care for. He knew his clothes would spoil in the forge, so he picked an old tunic with holes and a pair of stained breeches.

“What’s holding you up, Jem?” shouted his mother.

Jem put on his sandals, and called, “I’m coming Mom.”

“Let me look at you. Now you be careful in the forge. It can be a dangerous place.” Jem’s mother smiled at her only son. “Make me proud.”

Jem sighed. “Yes Mom.”

He was getting tired of his mother’s attention, and constantly treating him like a child. He hated it when anyone treated him like a child but humoured his mother. Jem grinned back, “I’ll be fine Mom.” and skipped to the door.

The morning outside was starkly bright, as the sun shone through thin silver clouds that seemed to amplify the rays. Jem knew that the weather would turn foul the next day. There was an old saying in their village: “
The sun comes after the rain and the rain comes after the sun
.”

It didn’t always rain, but the weather was never the same two days in a row except in Third month, which was now over.

Jem walked through the town, past the old buildings, many of them standing empty. The steady decline in the population in the recent decades had people talking in the region. Jem had no idea what was causing it and he couldn’t guess. All he knew was the town was now half its size and most of the people were old.

The forge loomed in front of him like an insurmountable peak. He had heard stories of the smith, but rarely saw him for all the work he had. Maxwell Iron was the last of a long line of smiths who were well known for their quality and had recently received a large military contract. He was commissioned to make swords, shields and chain mail. Maxwell had employed most of the young men in the village as apprentices.

“You’re late.” said Maxwell, in a loud, unchallengeable voice. “You will stay late and help the other cretins scrub down at close.”

Jem winced. “Yes Mr. Iron.” said Jem.

As Jem entered the forge, he could feel the heat of the furnaces inside, and saw all the other boys and young men gathered in a bunch.

“All right, everyone!” said Maxwell. “We have a new member on the team from today. You all know Jem. If he asks you something, please just help him. Duties are the same as yesterday.  Jem, Kelvin will show you what to do.”

Kelvin led Jem to a corner of the forge. He was tall and muscular with straight brown hair clinging to his sweaty forehead. He wore a leather apron and seemed surefooted in the forge. There was a low workbench with stools around it. On the bench were several sets of small anvils, hammers, chisels, pliers and a massive pile of small steel rings. “As you can see,” said Kelvin pointing to the pile of rings, “we have a lot of raw material here, and precious little finished product here.” Kelvin pointed to the far end of the workbench, at several vests of ring mail.

“So what do we do?”

“Nothing exciting.” said Kelvin. “Grab a stool and I’ll show you.”

Kelvin sat down, took five rings and put them in front of him. With the chisel, he cut a slit in one ring and threaded the other four rings into it using the pliers. Then he took the small hammer and annealed the slit shut. It took him about a minute. Kelvin showed Jem the little flower he had just made and said, “When you have several little flowers like these I will show you how to join them to make a vest.”

Jem started to work with his set of tools copying Kelvin as he watched him step by step. The first few times he tried, his tool either slipped and he stabbed himself in his hand or he pinched himself with a pair of pliers.

Kelvin giggled, “Hold it like this. Always keep the sharp parts facing away from yourself that way, when they slip then you don’t end up juicing yourself.”

“Thanks.” said Jem. “Is there anything else?”

Kelvin raised his eyebrows and nodded, “Oh yes…pace up, you’re working way too slowly. The trick is to get into a rhythm that is constant and repetitive so that your muscles can learn; Mr. Iron taught us that, he has a special word for it.”

“What?” asked Jem.

“Work.” said Kelvin.

Jem shifted his position on the stool to get comfortable, sweat pouring down his face as the heat of the forge penetrated him. He focused on the first part of the task to try to master it and then the next while trying to remember exactly how, then he repeated it.

Jem was just getting into a rhythm when Maxwell Iron surprised him from behind. He slammed a steel rule on the work table and shouted at Jem’s head. “Pace up, this is not a cretin’s holiday resort!”

Jem was so startled that he fell off his stool and landed on his back with feet flailing in the air. A cascade of small metal rings poured off the workbench onto Jem, almost covering him. The forge erupted in laughter as Jem scrambled to his feet in confusion, tears flowing down his cheeks. “Sorry Mr Iron, I’m sorry.”

Jem franticly started to pick up the rings, putting handfuls back on the table only to find them rolling off again.

Maxwell grabbed Jem by the tunic and shouted. “What you are doing is brain dead, look at this mess.” He pointed at the floor and the table.

“If you want to work in this place you have to step up. Your first assignment from me is to find a solution to this by the end of the day, fail me and you will shovel coal, do you hear me?”

Jem stammered. “S-Sir.”

Maxwell turned and left, Jem watched him for a moment as he tried to compose himself. Kelvin, where are the ablutions?”

Kelvin pointed behind him with a pair of sharp nosed piers in his hand but said nothing.

Jem went to the back, washed his face and drank some water. There was a large polished mirror in the bathroom which he found odd. He looked at himself. He had only been working at the forge for two hours and it looked like he was already worse for wear. He washed his face again and drank more water; he glanced over his shoulder to check if Maxwell was coming up from behind him again.

Jem looked deep into the mirror at his own eyes and asked himself. “Where is the fire?”

As he stared at himself he realized that this couldn’t be it, he wasn’t going to work in the stupid forge for the rest of his life. He needed to make a difference somewhere. “Fix the problem with the table and go look for your niche.” He told himself.

Jem returned to his post and started to work. Kelvin noticed that Jem was chewing on his bottom lip, “Don’t think too much.”

Jem looked up, “How am I supposed to solve this problem?”

Kelvin moved his hands so quickly between tasks that it was almost a blur. “You think of a solution, and then you implement it by changing something, by either moving something or building something, and if Maxwell doesn’t like it then you will be shovelling coal.”

“Have you ever shovelled coal?” asked Jem.

Kelvin nodded, “Everyone shovels coal.”

“So everyone fails?”

“No, if you fail then you shovel coal, and if you succeed then you get given a new problem to solve until you fail, then you shovel coal.”

“Why?”

“On one hand.” explained Kelvin. “The coal must be shovelled and on the other hand things must be improved, Maxwell says that we are the best because we are always improving.”

“Have you improved anything?” asked Jem.

Kelvin pointed down at the rings, “We used to cut every ring to thread it. It took forever times ten to make one ring mail jacket. I came up with a system to speed up production and now I alone can make one vest in the time it used to take five guys.”

Jem nodded, he grabbed one ring after the next and tried to work them into the flowers that Kelvin was making. His hands were beginning to ache but his mind was working to solve the problem on the table. The problem was that it was disorganized; there was a pile of unruly metal rings on one side and a pile of scantly finished product on the other side. If they could increase production several fold and if Jem could prove himself as the problem solver in the forge then he would never have to shovel coal.

Maxwell came over to Jem’s table. “Are we shovelling coal tomorrow?” asked Maxwell.

Jem could see the fury building behind the smith’s eyes as he shook his own head. “What we need here is a dispenser to hold the rings neatly in one place and to dispense them in the right orientation so that the assemblers don’t need to fumble…”Jem paused as he baited Maxwell with the next part, “…we should be able to speed up production several fold with what I have in mind.”

Maxwell’s face softened into a grin, “Sounds great, what do you need?”

“Just a couple of thin long metal spikes twisted into spirals and hung from the side. If we can remove and replace them from a pole on the side of the table then we can charge them with rings without wasting time, you just need to twist the spiral spike in a bucket full of rings and the job is done.”

Maxwell nodded and looked happy, “Leave what you are doing and affect your solution upon this mayhem. Go to the store and request what you need. If you need some skills or tool-time from the other boys, just ask. Any problems, call me.”

Jem put down his tools and made for the store. He glanced over to where Kelvin was sitting and saw Maxwell lean over the table as he pointed a finger at Kelvin; he turned away and went on with his task without seeing what happened to Kelvin, he was too scared for him.  Jem spoke to the store man who was a thin, older man with a nervous twitch and a chronic stutter. He was very helpful to give Jem what he needed but refrained from giving any advice, except for one thing he couldn’t stop saying. “D-don’t make en-en-emies my boy, don’t make en-en-emies.”

Jem grabbed what he needed and went back to the ring mail assembly table. Kelvin wasn’t there. Jem glanced around and saw Kelvin outside by the coal pile retrieving a shovel. Jem shook his head, wondering what had happened.

Jem tried to shake off his thoughts and forged on with his own problems. He took the long straight spikes over to the guy in the corner who was rolling some thin metal plates. ‘What are you making?” Jem asked.

The guy looked up, he was sweating and looked annoyed, “Carriage wheel tyres. I’m Zain.”

Zain was dirty, and wore a sleeveless tunic. He was thin with a gaunt face and he stank like someone who worked in a forge everyday but never bathed.

“Could you roll some spikes for me into tight coils?” asked Jem.

Zain looked back at the large pile of tyres that he had already made and then at the even larger pile of unrolled tyres that he still needed
to get through. “Did Maxwell send you for this?”

“Yes, he said I should ask anyone for what I needed and should call him if I had any problems.”

“Look man, don’t make problems for me, I’m barely on schedule, I haven’t taken a break in three days, if I help you then I will get behind.”

BOOK: Finding The Soul Bridge (The Soul Fire Saga Book 1)
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