Telling Tales 144
The Last One Standing Is Not the Winner
Perhaps it was always too late and Tapio was bleeding too much stop his actions. Perhaps Sami’s ambitions could have bore fruit in a way that did not to damage to the väki. What is certain is that by the time they talked, there was no turning back. Sami, who had lost two men to wild animals and whose wife had caught an illness from a tick that their house haldja could not cure, was angry.
“This is between you and me,” he accused Tapio. “You went after my family.”
But to the väki, Sami had already crossed that line, if such a line existed in his mind. The holder had cut down trees and slain animals above and beyond those which were allowed by the rules. He had diverted a stream. He had broken rocks. In short, they did not understand one another. Each had committed unpardonable sins against the other. “I am my family,” answered Tapio.
True as this was, it seemed the worst kind of nonsense to our Sami. That man believed that Tapio was not a real man, and in that at least, he was correct. He believed that the figure before him was a construct, a magical being (magical by his understanding), and in this he was both right and wrong. Tapio gathered these pieces to himself and wrapped them around his center, but they were not him. Not exactly. Thus when Sami drove his spear through Tapio’s foot to trap him in one place and then cut his head off with his sword, he imagined he was sending a message to the väki that he would not stand for their threats. In this he was deeply, deeply wrong, for while this construct was not entirely Tapio and its destruction did not kill him, neither was it not-Tapio, and its death hurt him badly.
The haldjas of iron and fire were the first to abandon their place in the forge. As long as the haldja did not work directly against the väki, they were satisfied to stay where they were, but once Sami raised their work against Tapio (as opposed to the crows), they could no longer stand by. The house haldja was the last to leave but leave it did and without their protection, they could finally hear the forest screamed its fury and its pain.
Insects and animals and birds, predators and prey alike descended upon the holding and in their agony they were indiscriminate. They destroyed not only Sami’s lands, but those of his neighbors. The damage done was too great and they lost any sense that they might have had. Perhaps if Sami had not struck down Tapio’s form, would it have been so bad? Perhaps it would have been worse, who can say? In the end, though, all that was left was Kareliya with no more humans. None alive at any rate.
So what happened next? When the next Sami arrived, the next person like him, I mean, there were no neighbors to tell him the rules. Cut every fourth tree? Or fifth? Or what struck him as right?
There was no way for the väki to communicate. Maybe Tapio was too far gone at that moment. I don’t know. But having slain all of the people there, there was no continuity and the väki crippled themselves moving forward.
Now? Kareliya is Kareliya, yes, but there are cities, towns, settlements. Sami died, but his purpose lived on. Tapio lived, but what is left of him?