This castle is cold and always damp from the salty air blown in from the sea and from the fetid air blowing in from the filthy streets polluted with oily fish scales and refuse. It is a challenge to keep it warm. Thick tapestries adorn the walls and bring in a brighter atmosphere, but without fire it would be far too miserable to bear. The smoke from the kitchen is black and acrid, but most of it is directed away from the castle, and though I have become used to it, I prefer to spend my time in my chamber with the fresh air from an open window and the pleasant aroma from my pipe and the warmth of the fire to brighten my mood. Yes, the myriad odors from inside a castle can be noxious as well as sickening.
I was just thinking about the quantity of firewood that it takes to support my castle, and my mind was suddenly diverted by a strange image in my mind of the amount of work it should take to supply my needs. Cartloads and cartloads are delivered frequently to this castle, but what of the woodchopper? Such a difficult life it would seem to me, but no . . .I have a vision of a very powerful, very wise woodchopper. I can almost see him in my mind, and though he be ugly, rather stupid, blunt and careless with his words, I imagine him to be wise in the way of life, and the way of trees. Indeed, I suppose that he even talks to trees, for the trees are his only friend. He must have a name, it must be a name made for a woodchopper, so I will call him Hagen, I shall call him Hagen the Woodchopper.
And yet all day I drill my men to fight battles that will never be fought, deeds that will never be done, when in truth, all I need is a small garrison to guard my castle. My men are stout and they are brave, but they must be kept busy even though I have nothing for them to do, for the skills of a fighter dim from misuse. No, there are no battles to be fought on my tranquil, little island. I do sometimes wonder the wisdom of preparing for events that are certain to happen, while at the same time failing to prepare for events that only might happen, for which is the greater danger? . . . this woodchopper would have to be very wise it seems to me, for that he should know the trees. And he does know the trees, of that I am certain.
Sometimes I wish it were for me to face an adversary of comparable power to test the mettle of my soul. But then a moment later I realize the folly of my wish, for a king should seek nothing but peace for his people. There is no glory in death, there be no dragons, and there be no demons with which to do battle. Only in my dreams do these things exist, for in truth the world is built from stories, and when the world begins to grow cold, cynical, and wars flare up like wildfire, it is only stories that can temper the pain, and that it not eclipse our fragile world.
And Hagen would know the language of the trees, for how else could be communicate with them? The trees give Hagen their most precious wood, and in return, Hagen gives them . . . Blood!
And now it is Sigmus that speaks of stories, as if they too have a power or some mechanism is this world. I know well enough that my brother shares this view although when pressed he cannot fully explain the practicality of it. I am not mistaken, I know the joy, the power, the enormous financial investment that we all place on storytelling. But to ascribe to it an actual effect is an altogether different matter. Then, a further reading of Sigmus' words tempers my critique for it appears to me as though maybe he too is skeptical of an actual effect but instead believes it to be a balm, an intoxicant or a true medicine. Of this, I have great sympathy for while the body is a living organism in need of sustenance and repair, the mind is also a living thing, in need of sustenance and repair. And if this book is to be believed, a reader can see that the immediate pain that was experienced after the death of his wife has begun to subside, the wounds under repair. What comes next must be grief.