Telling Tales 143
The Strategic Use of Power
The forest rose up against Sami. Even so, he was not wholly unprepared. He had built his house from the wood of the larch, which does not burn. He built his foundation from stone and cleared the trees from around the house so that none could fall and crush his roof. Fire would not reach him from the trees. He trained his dogs and his horses were as calm in a gale as any good warhorse is in battle. His oxen were easy and he could calm them with a word. The haldja of the stables was well-cared for, and in return, Sami’s mastery of his animals was complete. The haldja of the fields insured that he had a great deal of food set aside and that of the house made sure that mice did not eat into the stores. Yes, Sami was as prepared as a man can be.
When the bears fell upon his cattle, he set his dogs upon the bears. They drove the bears off, but bad luck, several of them went lame with the thorns and stones that found their way into the dogs’ paws. Horseflies beset his mounts and the hair began to fall out from their backs and their manes became thin. The water in the stream dried up although the well did not. Flocks of crows attacked anyone who entered the fields, although they left the crops alone.
There were more preparations. Next to the stable was a forge where Sami shoed his horses, repaired his plow, and where another haldja resided. Sami had not been a great smith or even a good one. He had minimal skills, enough to suit his purposes and little else, but under the eye of the iron haldja that sat in his hammer and the fire haldja in his forge, he had learned tricks that many an experienced smith did not know. Iron traps captured the birds and haldja-assisted arrows found many targets.
Eventually, they seemed to come to an uneasy balance. As long as Sami and his people – family and hired hands – stayed within the bounds of the farm and stayed vigilant, Tapio and the forest could do little to them.
Could they have talked before they did? Could Tapio have taken human form sooner than he did, or did it take this point, this crisis to arrive?
The man who emerged from the forest was not completely a man. He was too tall, too spindly. Moss ran along where his eyes ought to have been and his forehead was either creased with wrinkles or simply worn stone. Lichen dripped from his cheeks and chin, a thin, gray-green beard. His fingers and palms were worn and brown and it was impossible to tell if he wore a bearskin cloak or if he himself were covered with the fur. His feet were larger than such a thin man should have and although they looked as human as Sami’s own, the tracks he left might have been a wolf chasing an elk.
They met at the line between forest and holding. Defiant man armed with spear, sword, and bow. Wounded Tapio, the very forest itself wrapped up into a single being.
“You knew the rules,” said the man-forest. “You knew them, and yet you broke them.”
“I have to think about my family,” said Sami.
“And I have to think about mine.”