After the Harvest Festival, Brent gave himself a day of rest before organizing the last part of Alivilda’s defence system. The Ardiechy stone wall had been repaired, and then a wooden gate had been installed on the north side of the bridge. Now he planned to extend the wooden wall at the gate to cover a much longer distance along the river. Brent figured that the gate would be of little use if raiders were able to build simple rafts to get across the stream, or even wade through the deep water during the hot dry Saun season. But if there was a second line of defence, a wooden wall, to supplement the natural defence of the river, then Alivilda could be much better protected.
Brent hoped to connect the new wooden wall to the Ardiechy stone wall to the east, and to the Alivilda hold wall to the west. But as the temperatures started to drop, he was worried about how much they were going to be able to finish.
Fresh from the celebrations of the Harvest Festival, Brent had several volunteers to work on the wall. The supply of timber had come from the Forrester logging business down by Raelia and he had his elder brother Ted to help.
“So for those who helped us with the gate, I’d like you to show and teach anyone who is new.” Brent spoke to the twenty or so volunteers. “Anyone who has some woodworking experience, I’d like you to sharpen the timber logs at each end so that they can more easily be driven into the ground and to provide a less pleasant experience for anyone trying to climb over. We’ll need a team of two people digging the trench. And whenever the timbers are being lifted or maneuvered, we need a minimum of four people per log depending on how heavy it is. We don’t need any heroes here. It won’t help us if you hurt your back or break an arm because you were trying to show off.”
There were a couple of sniggers, but mostly the group was attentive with nods of understanding.
“Alight, let’s break off and get to work!”
The cartographer was starting to feel more comfortable in his leadership role but still found it daunting talking to so many people and giving direction. As the group dispersed, he found himself both amazed and surprised at how well they seemed to respond to the instruction. It had helped that he had already worked out some of the construction techniques from doing the gate, but now they were faced with a much longer wall to complete.
Brent helped in a variety of tasks, from digging the trenches to pounding the timber logs into place. When they had made a long enough section of vertical pieces lined together, Brent arranged for smaller pieces of wood to be nailed horizontally to reinforce the vertical posts.
By the end of the first day, they had made huge strides. Brent measured the length of what had been constructed and compared it to the distances on his map. After jotting down some calculations in addition to counting on his fingers, he figured it would take them about twelve days to complete the wall at the rate they were going. Twelve days! A dozen days and they would be done! He knew they were still at the start but it was hugely promising.
But the second day wasn’t nearly as successful as the first.
The temperature dropped dramatically and when previously the volunteers were wearing light jackets, now they donned full coats. Brent made sure that the men all had gloves or mittens of sorts, but to his dismay only about ten volunteers showed. Not only did he now have a smaller group of workers but there were other aspects about the weather that slowed down the work. Digging the foundations for the wall became harder as the frost set in. The men also had to be more careful with bringing the timber logs up from the river’s edge due to the cold water. When the wind picked up, Brent found himself pulling up his hood while hefting the big logs. The cartographer tried to offer encouragement in the cold weather but it was only dimly received.
The next day wasn’t much better and to top it off, there was a light dusting of snow. The good news was that by now everyone had brought in the harvest, but the bad news was that there was good reason to be done by this time of year. The novelty of the wooden wall had worn off, especially as the men repeated the same repetitive tasks. But what was Brent supposed to do? They weren’t building the wall just for show. What if raiders came during the cold seasons, hungry for food because they had run out? By the end of the third day Brent ordered a round of mead on the house. While it lightened their spirits slightly, he wasn’t sure how much longer their morale would last.
The next two days, the 65th and 66th of Vhalar were somewhat warmer and by the 67th the ground was wet and slushy. Brent tried to make the most of the warmer days for digging the trench. There were even a couple of volunteers out working who had stayed in on the colder days. But the more Brent assessed their progress, the more he had doubts regarding the extent of the wall they’d be able to complete. They had gotten slower and people were tired and sore from the manual labour. Even Brent was feeling it in his arms and legs despite not wanting to admit it. But he continued to push on out of fear of not finishing as well as not having a better plan in mind.
On the night of the 76th, everything took a turn for the worse. They had been struggling day by day with the weather but on the 76th a huge snowstorm rolled in from the northeast. They packed up early and the wind whistled around as the snow came down in sheets. Brent found himself looking anxiously out the window of his home as Ted tended the fire.
“You’re going to have to give it a rest, Brent.” Ted said as he watched his younger brother staring out at the depressing weather. “Finish it off in Ashan when it warms up.”
“And if that’s too late?” Brent countered.
The question hung in the air unanswered. The wall was almost as far as the Mill on the Ardiechy side, but on the Alivilda hold side it was only just starting to go around the Wacara Pond. It wasn’t nothing, but it also wasn’t complete.
On the morning of the 77th, there was at least a foot of snow, if not more in some places.
With grim determination, Brent bundled up in his coat and boots to limp his way over to the wall. Ted had declined to join him, and with every step the cartographer found his own morale draining. The landscape by the river was a blanket of white. Timber logs that had not yet been put in place were lying on their sides half buried in snow. The wooden posts stood stark against the snowy background with little white hats on the sharpened spikes. But most importantly, the landscape was empty of people and activity.
Brent kicked the snow in frustration and tried to hoist up the next log in line for the wall. He struggled with the weight and stuck it in at an awkward angle, trying to lever it up to be in line with the others. But it was no use, he had no help. Even trying to pound in the timber wasn’t going anywhere and he eventually let the timber fall back down onto the ground.
He wasn’t cold. In fact, he was sweating from the exertion, but he knew it wouldn’t last as the sweat began to chill his skin. Everyone had stayed home. Even though it had stopped snowing, the winds swirled around picking up snow and threatening to suck all the warmth from his coat. He was one person now, was there anything he could do at this point? He could dig new trenches, but for what? For the foundation of timbers he couldn’t set into place?
In his frustration he took a few of the smaller wooden beams and nailed them to sections of wall that were not as well reinforced. But his efforts were muted by the hassle of mittens and the brisk winds that chilled his exposed face. At last he saw the distant shape of a person headed towards the wall. Were they one of the volunteers? Could they finish the last bit together? Brent clutched to hope like a drowning man clutched to floating wood.
As the figure got closer though, a familiar voice called out. “Brent! It’s time to come back home. You’ll freeze to death out here. I don’t care what you think this needed to be, but it’ll be enough. It’s a hundred times better than it was before.” Ted Forrester made one last plea, “Please Brent, come home.”
The cartographer found it hard to tear himself away from the project he had started. Started but not finished. A shiver shot through him as he sucked in cold air, wrestling with what to do. At last he began his slow limping gait back home. Ted thumped him on the back reassuringly, and the two brothers headed back to the house.
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