Family Tree: A Novel Spanning 17 Centuries
by Paul Lima
Jörð, goddess of Earth, is standing on her immaculate white cumulus cloud, her long satin robe spilling on to the down-like wisps around her feet. When in the clouds, she is ethereal–delicate, light and weightless–as if she were part of the clouds. She peers over the edge of her cloud and observes the thick forest below. This shall do, she thinks as she shakes toasted caramel hair that cascades over her shoulders and flows down her back. She spreads her arms wide and snaps her fingers three times. Three red squirrels–rust-coloured with pure white bellies, deep black stripes on each side and tails that are reddish on top and yellow-grey on the underside–materialize beside her.
Looking down at her squirrels and smiling as they chatter up at her, Jörð nods and claps her hands. Once. Twice. Three times. The red squirrels materialize on the ground below, in the Black Forest of Saxony. They gaze up inquisitively through a vast grove of trees, waiting for Jörð to speak.
“You are wondering what your assignment is,” Jörð says, talking down to the squirrels from on high.
The squirrels chatter in reply and Jörð enlightens them.
“You are each to find an acorn in the Oak trees that surround you, but not just any acorn. You must each find an acorn that has heated up, as their warmth is calling to you. When you find them, and there are only three in the forest, you are not to eat them.”
The red squirrels look at each other, then up at Jörð and nod.
“You are to carry the acorns north-east. Follow the river, past the big bend, to the broad basin where you shall find a treeless field. In that field is a large, reddish mudstone rock, a fine-grained sedimentary boulder, pushed up from the deep earth. Near the rock, a short scamper away…” Jörð continues as the red squirrels listen attentively.
The three red squirrels explore the Black Forest, scrambling up and down Oak trees in search of heat emanating from three acorns. Once they find the acorns that have heated up, which takes them most of the day, they store them in their cheek pouches and head north-east to the river. They scurry around the great bend, past the broad basin and find a treeless field with a large, reddish boulder partially embedded in the soil.
A short scamper from the mudstone rock they excavate a deep hole, as Jörð instructed them to do, three times deeper than any squirrel burying a solitary acorn would dig. They take turns depositing their acorns, each bowing over the hole as if in prayer.
Acorns placed the in the hole, they scoop fertile soil back in. When the hole is filled to the brim, the red squirrels use their nimble paws to firmly pat earth over their acorns.
As the squirrels sit by their meticulously covered hole, the magic begins.
Deep in the hole, the acorns spin, twirl and merge into one oversized kernel. The kernel germinates a taproot that pushes down deep into the soil. As the taproot descends, the newly formed acorn sends a shoot towards the surface.
What would normally take six weeks takes only several hours, as the shoot of the germinating acorn breaks through the packed earth into the full daylight.
The red squirrels sit back on their haunches, wave their tails and chatter joyfully as the shoot pushes into the air, becoming a thin sapling with three shades of brown bark twisted like a braid.
The sapling continues her growth over the following days and nights and produces three branches that reach towards the sun and sprout emerald leaves that quickly unfurl.
A few weeks later, when the growing Oak is strong enough to bear their weight, the red squirrels climb her braided trunk, sit on her thin branches, look over the field and chat joyfully. Pleased that they have accomplished what Jörð has asked of them, they scamper down to the base of the Oak and race around their tree.
The Oak tree continues to mature as the red squirrels watch over her, climb her, scramble across her branches and chatter as squirrels do during courtship. However, there is no courting occurring. There is only a celebration of the swift growth of Jörð’s Oak tree.
* * *
“Why have you planted an Oak tree in this desolate field?” Odin, god of war and poets, asks Jörð who is lounging in a silk covered lounge that is tucked, almost invisible, into in her cumulus cloud.
Odin, Jörð’s occasional lover, is standing by her side in full warrior’s regalia. Almost as ethereal as Jörð, he is wearing his bronze breastplate and conical helmet. His double-edged flat blade sword with an elaborately decorated pommel is sheathed in its scabbard at his side and he is holding his wooden planked shield covered in a protective layer of leather. The cloud swirls around Odin’s ankles, making him a part of its delicate substance and magically holds him afloat.
Ignoring Odin, Jörð yawns disinterestedly.
“Well?” Odin asks as he looks down at Jörð’s Oak tree.
“It is a family tree, grown from three particular acorns. One that is destined to live forever, as are its children,” Jörð replies, a degree of indifference in her voice, as she slowly rises to her feet.
“An immortal family tree? But I see no family!” says Odin as he scratches at his lion’s main of a beard.
“For a god, you have very little imagination,” says Jörð. Her demeanour cool and distant, she knows that Odin has recently been with other goddesses and is coming back to her, as he always does, now that his casual flings have ended. She can barely conceal her disdain for his behaviour, about which she knows she can do nothing.
“I need not imagine. I do.” says Odin. “I am a busy god. I have wars to start, poets to inspire, goddesses to seduce…” He clutches at his sword but does not unsheathe it.
“As you seduced me, and then moved on to others.”
“Have no worries, for I have returned,” Odin smiles as he removes his helmet.
“But was I waiting for your return?”
“Goddesses are always waiting for Odin. It is in their nature,” Odin says, tucking his helmet under one arm.
“It is in the nature of my tree to wait there for her family,” says Jörð. “As for my nature…” She turns her back on Odin.
Odin steps towards Jörð who, sensing him move closer, folds her arms across her chest. “As for your nature,” he says.
“How can you seduce me if I am no longer willing to be seduced by you, even if you beg me?”
“Ha! I beg not,” shouts Odin.
“We shall see,” says Jörð, turning to face Odin.
Odin bristles and blusters. “Be with your family tree, your tree with no family. Nothing but squirrels in its branches. Not even acorns for them to eat.” He places his helmet back on his head.
“My Oak tree shall soon have her family and her aura shall bond with them,” says Jörð. “As for me, I have time to sit in the luxurious shade of Mother Oak and blissfully ignore you.”
“Bah,” says Odin. With that and a dismissive flick of a wrist, he disappears to start wars and to inspire poets to write about the battles he instigates.
Without acknowledging Odin’s departure, Jörð flutters down beside her Oak tree. She looks up into her branches. “One last thing,” she says as she holds up her arms, spreads her fingers and places her hands on the trunk of the tree.
It is subtle, but the red squirrels can feel it: the beating of the tree’s heart.
As the Oak tree’s heart beats, Jörð folds her satin robe over her legs and sits in its shade. The three red squirrels scramble down its braided trunk and climb into the lap of their goddess, where they sleep contentedly.
* * *
One hundred years later, the tree is a mighty Oak, the only tree in the open field in Saxony, a stone’s throw from the Elbe River, a short distance from the reddish mudstone rock embedded in the soil.
Unlike other Oak trees that only produce acorns in the fall, Jörð’s Oak tree has three acorns hanging from its branches year round. Come the fall, it produces a full crop of acorns, but the same three acorns hang from its branches winter, spring, summer and fall. Three red squirrels climb the tree’s thick, braided trunk and along her solid branches and admire, but do not pick, the three acorns that Mother Oak nurtures all year.
Arlyss and his wife Sigeburg come to a spot in an open field, beyond the great bend in the Elbe River. Stony, a young horse who has bonded with Arlyss and treats Sigeburg with indifference, hauls their cart into the field and stops in the shade of a mighty Oak.
Arlyss and Sigeburg survey the land, which is covered in scrub brush. Other than the mudstone rock, the land is flat and void of large boulders. There are no trees on the land, but for the grand Oak with three red squirrels sitting in its branches, looking down intently as they chatter and shake their red and yellow-grey tails.
Sigeburg looks up at the Oak and feels it looking down upon her. “This is the place,” she says. “This is where we shall make our dwelling and farm the land.”
Arlyss continues to survey the land and nods. “As good as many fields we have seen. Better than most.” He leans down, picks up a clump of earth and brings it to his nose. He inhales deeply then tightly clenches the soil in his fist. “The soil is rich,” he says. “If we farm this land, we shall have excellent crops. Wheat and rye for bread. Barley for brewing. Oats to feed the animals we shall acquire.”
“And for morning porridge that I shall cook for you,” says Sigeburg. “As well as carrots, parsnips, cabbages, peas, beans and onions that I shall use to cook stews and soups.”
Standing a head taller than his wife, Arlyss has long, unruly black hair that cascades down to his shoulders and a full, dark, scraggly beard. He walks with a slight but noticeable limp. The limp is left over from a wound received in Britain while fighting for the Romans to defend Hadrian’s Wall against attacking Barbarians. When the battles ended with the retreat of the Barbarians, Arlyss was given the option of accepting land in Britain or taking Roman coin. He chose coin as he desired to return to Saxony to be with his wife whom he loves deeply.
For a small woman, Sigeburg carries herself tall, with a straight back and head held high. Her long reddish-blonde hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail. She has a perpetual smile and deep, sea green eyes that twinkle as they take in her surroundings.
She looks at the Oak tree and notices that it has three shades of brown woven into its rough bark. “A truly magnificent Oak,” she says.
“We can chop it down and use its wood to build our dwelling,” Arlyss says.
The branches of the Oak tree recoil at his words and the squirrels begin to chatter in a loud, irritated manner.
“This is a sturdy Oak,” Sigeburg says. She pauses and listens to the squirrels chatter as if they are delivering a message from the tree. She nods her head in response and then looks up at her husband. “It is a blessed tree, planted at the behest of Jörð.”
Arlyss looks at his wife questioningly.
“Look,” she says, pointing up towards the top of the tree. “It is the soon to be the warm season and yet the Oak has three acorns in its top branches.”
Arlyss follows his wife’s finger to where it is pointing and sees the acorns to which she is referring. “Unusual, I admit,” he says.
“If we build our dwelling close to the tree, it shall provide us with shade on hot summer days and shield us from strong winds during storms that Thunor, god of weather, throws at us,” she continues. “Look.” She points at the mudstone rock. “We can embed that flat bolder into one of the walls of our hut, making it the back of our hearth.”
“Ja,” says Arlyss. “That would work for the hearth.” He scratches his beard. “But if we spare the Oak, I shall have to travel with Stony and the cart to find smaller trees. Building our dwelling shall take much more time.”
“So then,” says Sigeburg with a broad smile, “what are you waiting for? I shall gather our goods and the vegetables and iron pot from our cart before you go chop other trees. I shall collect brush, make a fire and prepare soup for when you return with wood to use in the building of our home.”
The branches of the Oak rustle noticeably, even though there is no breeze. The red squirrels go quiet.
Arlyss shakes his head as Sigeburg pulls a sack of carrots and cabbages, a large cooking pot and other belongings from the cart. He knows that the Oak tree shall continue to stand as his wife has dictated.
“I am taking the axe,” Arlyss says. “You can pull brush for the fire by hand.”
Arlyss leaves to find trees in a nearby forest that he can chop as Sigeburg starts to gather scrub brush for her fire.
After some time, Arlyss returns with two small tree trunks and a load of branches. He glances up at the Oak tree with disdain. “This should be you,” he mutters. “Instead of chopping many smaller trees, I could chop you down and build our dwelling from one tree!”
Arlyss starts to unload branches from the cart and piles them near the mudstone rock. He looks over at his wife who hung an iron cauldron full of water she has drawn from the river on a metal rod over the fire. As the water comes to a boil, Sigeburg places chopped carrots and cabbage in the cauldron and stirs the soup. A whiff of steam emanates from the pot and a hungry Arlyss inhales the hearty aroma.
By the time Arlyss has finished unloading and piling branches and the tree trunks, evening has fallen. “I shall chop other trees tomorrow,” he says to Sigeburg. “Soon we shall have wood enough for walls. I can weave in small branches and smear mud and some horse dung to seal the walls from wind and rain. For a roof, we shall have no straw to thatch until our first harvest. Branches with leaves shall have to do until then, and we can only hope that there is little rain.” He pauses, stretches his arms and yawns. “I shall put up our tent for tonight.”
Sigeburg leaves the soup and strolls over to her husband. “Forget about the tent,” she says, stroking his arm. “You shall be pleased that you did not chop down the Oak.”
Arlyss furrows his brow, trying to understand the meaning of what Sigeburg is saying.
“We can have soup for breakfast as the aura of the Oak tree told me that there is something we should do under the stars tonight,” Sigeburg says.
Arlyss smiles bashfully as he begins to understand his wife’s seductive enticement.
The three red squirrels in the tree chatter and dance joyously as the Oak tree shimmers in the evening moonlight.
It is Tuesday, the day after Labour Day. Corey Alden will soon be heading into work, as the new Director of Information Technology for Ancestry Discovery, a rapidly growing DNA testing company in San Francisco. The Aldens–Corey, his wife Indira and their daughter Ashley–have moved from Toronto to San Francisco where they have been living for just over three weeks.
Corey has already gone into the office for several meetings, but today is his first official day on the job. Indira, a registered nurse, is starting as a volunteer in the maternity ward of the UCSF Betty Irene Moore Women’s Hospital. Ashley’s classes in the science and languages programs at the University of California-San Francisco begin today.
At forty-two, Corey is a tall, fit-looking man. He sports a full head of dark hair, with just a hint of grey at his temples, combed back in curly waves. Corey inherited his dark complexion and wavy hair from his mother. According to her, he inherited his deep round eyes and his small ears from his father. His slightly crooked nose, though, is all his own.
Corey walks across the diminutive square of a front lawn towards the car park adjacent to the house. Before he reaches his ocean-blue Ford Focus, he pauses at his Oak tree, planted in the centre of the lawn.
His Oak tree had a rough start when first planted in Toronto, where they lived with his mother, Martha, before she passed away.
They continued to live in the house inherited from her until they moved to San Francisco.
Since being replanted in San Francisco it has grown rapidly, as if making up for lost time, and emits an occasional cloudy white aura that only Corey can see.
Corey did not notice squirrels when the Aldens arrived at the new house. Once he planted his Oak tree, there they were: three squirrels. Rust-colored with pure white bellies, deep black stripes on each side and tails that are reddish on top and yellow-grey on the underside. Chattering at his tree, they were waiting for its roots to clutch firmly into the soil so that it would be sturdy enough for them to climb.
Corey puzzled over their appearance but concluded that there must be red squirrels in California, just as there were in Toronto. It mystified him that, as in Toronto, the bellies of the squirrels were pure white and the stripes on their sides were an intense black, unlike the mottled white and blotchy black of other red squirrels.
The red squirrels in Toronto climbed both his grandfather’s and his mother’s Oak trees in the front and back yards of the house on Sunnyside Avenue. They ignored Corey’s barely a sapling of an Oak tree in the backyard, as it was too weak to support even the weight of their tiny bodies. While the poor growth of Corey’s Oak tree disappointed him, Corey came to believe it was his fault that it did not do well. He had planted the tree before his acorns, inherited from his mother’s tree, had warmed up and requested to be planted. Every time he looked at his tree in Toronto, he felt as if he had let down his family line.
Now that his family and his Oak tree are in San Francisco, the problem, based on how perky his newly planted tree is, seems to be solved.
“San Francisco. This is where you belong,” Corey says to his Oak tree and pats its rough bark, twisted like a braid in three shades of brown. “I didn’t know that when I first planted you.”
His Oak tree shimmers briefly. Three red squirrels, sitting on their haunches at the base of the tree, chatter playfully. Corey feels reassured by what he calls his Oak tree’s good vibrations. “Good, good, good vibrations,” he sings in a low baritone voice. “Now that we are living in California, that’s your theme song,” he chuckles.
As if in reply, his Oak tree’s branches sway to the tune, even though there is no breeze.
Originally, Corey was going to plant the Oak tree in the backyard of the new house, but once it was fully grown it would have been the only thing that could fit in the tiny yard. Corey knew that Indira wanted space to grow herbs, beans, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. With Indira’s needs in mind, and those of his stomach–Indira had taken many night school cooking classes and learned how to create marvelous Indian meals that tied her emotionally to a past of which she had no first-hand knowledge–he planted the Oak in the front. As a bonus, once he set up his home office on the second floor, he realized he could view his tree from the room’s window.
Indira, a slender east-Asian woman with long flowing jet-black hair and dark almond-shaped eyes, stands a head shorter than Corey. She appreciates the fact that Corey has left her the back yard for her garden. She also understands Corey’s obsession with his Oak tree. She knows it is important to him and is a tiny bit jealous about why it is so significant.
“I envy your relationship with the tree, but in a good way,” she tells Corey when he talks about Oak trees and his family line.
Corey had inherited three acorns from his mother’s Oak as his mother had inherited three acorns from her father’s Oak. Corey could trace back the inheritance of acorns from Oak trees along his family line for over sixteen centuries, to about 400 AD in Saxony, now the Dresden area of Germany.
Corey has never heard of any other family, Saxon or otherwise, that has passed on acorns or a rich family history.
Indira is envious because Corey’s Oak tree represents a family line she is unable to fathom. She was adopted as a child and has no knowledge of her biological parents.
She and Corey discussed this shortly after Ashley was born.
“My history doesn’t change who I am,” Corey said. “Just as your lack of history doesn’t change who you are.”
“But you like knowing where you come from,” Indira replied. “It is important to you.”
“But it doesn’t change me.”
“It doesn’t change you, but it makes you more than just Corey. And you shall pass on acorns and your family history to our daughter.”
“Does that bother you?”
“I am proud that she, unlike me, will have a family history.”
Corey smiled and hugged his wife.
Before accepting the job with Ancestry Discovery, Corey did some research that revealed genealogy was the second most popular hobby in the US, after gardening, and that genealogy websites were the second most popular websites, after porn sites. He knows that people are fascinated by Who Do You Think You Are, Finding Your Roots and similar television shows. Audiences like to watch celebrities find out where they come from and what impact their roots have had on who they are. In addition, viewers like to imagine their own ancestors, without whom they would not exist.
“People are shelling out a small fortune, almost two billion dollars per year, for genealogy services. They want to build family trees and discover their roots. That is why Ancestry Discovery is paying me big bucks,” Corey tells Indira. “I’m fortunate in that I spend nothing, and know so much more about my family line, on my mother’s side, than those who spend hundreds and thousands of dollars.”
Indira nods understandingly. “And then there are people like me, adopted, who know nothing about our genetic roots,” she says.
“I know,” says Corey sympathetically. “But we all become who we are no matter what we know or don’t know.” He pauses for a second. “For instance, we lived for a number of years with my mother, Martha, but I don’t remember very much about my dad, Hayden, other than the winter he rolled into the back yard on his wheelchair, got out the hose and flooded the yard to create a skating rink for me and my friends. I remember skating around and around my mother’s Oak tree on the ice rink that he created.
“Didn’t he have Multiple Sclerosis, just like your mother?” asks Indira.
“Similar. His was primary progressive, an aggressive form of MS. He died when I was seven years old. Most of my memories of him have faded. I remember the skating rink and sitting on his lap being taken for wheelchair rides. I have fond feelings for the man about whom my mother often talked affectionately. She told me more than once that he was a brave man to have a child with her, knowing how they were both dealing with MS.”
Indira puts a hand on Corey’s shoulder.
“My mother’s had what was called relapsing remitting MS,” he continues. “She struggled with it for over three decades before she died.”
“The last few years with us living in her house,” says Indira. “And she got to hold Ashley.”
“I am not saying it is better to have parents and lose them,” says Corey, wiping his eyes.
“You’re saying it’s different for all of us,” says Indira, to which Corey nods.
Corey’s mother told him he was supposed to plant the acorns she had given him when they heated up, which was their way of asking to be planted.
“They should heat up after you are married, but before you have a child,” she said. “It may sound peculiar, but don’t be afraid to talk to your tree. As it grows, pay attention to it. Through its aura, it will communicate with you, give you messages and even help you connect with your ancestors.”
When Corey and Indira married, his acorns did not heat up even though they decided to try to have a child.
“Takes a while, sometimes, for them to heat up,” his mother said with a smile, implying that it might take a while for Indira to become pregnant.
But Indira became pregnant quite soon after they were married and Corey was surprised that his acorns still had not warmed up.
“Give them time,” his mother said. “Perhaps they need to catch up to you!”
After his mother passed away, Corey didn’t know what to do with acorns that were still cool to touch.
When Ashley turned five, an impatient and frustrated Corey planted his acorns, thinking it was the only way he would be able to grow an Oak tree so he could pass on acorns to his daughter.
Ashley, now a lanky eighteen-year-old, has perpetually wild shoulder length dark hair and skin a lighter shade than her father’s, but a darker shade than her mother’s. Her face is symmetrical with full cheekbones and a square jaw line. Her nose is wider than her mother’s but more narrow that her father’s. Her big, bright eyes perpetually sparkle. And her full lips have a pouty look even when she smiles.
Ashley often climbed and sat in the trees planted by Corey’s grandfather and mother. She barely noticed her father’s runt of a tree.
By the time Ashley entered high school, Corey’s stunted Oak tree had only produced a couple of thin, gnarled branches, a few leaves and not one acorn.
Corey could sense, but not see, the auras of the trees that his mother and grandfather had planted. It was as if the two trees refused to communicate with him. His mother had told him that his tree, once planted, would use its aura to communicate with him, but his spindly tree had no aura at all.
Corey studied information technology at the University of Waterloo. He landed a job in IT at the TD Bank in Toronto, where his father had worked decades previously. Corey sometimes wondered if he picked the job at the TD, out of the many he was offered, to be where his father had been.
As the Internet and World Wide Web developed, Corey moved into teaching IT at the University of Toronto, where he became the co-ordinator of Web-based and e-commerce programs. He did something most academics in his position do not do. He sat in on the courses that he brought instructors in to teach, and he greatly augmented his IT knowledge.
In 2009, he left the university and became the Director of IT, responsible for website design, database development and e-commerce for the RBC Direct Investing, the brokerage division of the Royal Bank of Canada. That was the same year that Barack Obama became president of the United States. Obama was a black man with black and white parentage, just as Corey was.
“If my ancestors had not left America, I could be president,” Corey told Indira. “Not that I’d want to be president, and not that there was any black in the family when my ancestors fled America as United Empire Loyalists.”
Indira laughed. “What do you call an Asian woman adopted by white missionaries?”
Corey cocked his head. “Do you really have a punch line?”
“Not a funny one,” Indira said. “I was thinking fortunate. I mean I could have spent my young life in the adoption agency and been turned out to beg on the streets of Deli.”
Corey nodded and hugged his wife, as he was inclined to do when their discussions became deeply personal.
Corey met Franklin Hess, the Ancestry Discovery IT director, at several technology conferences and appeared on a panel with him at a conference in San Francisco. Franklin told him that he was taking early retirement and encouraged Corey to apply for his job.
“Ancestry Discovery could get a green card for you to work in America because you are familiar with e-commerce and multiple types of databases. Your expertise dovetails nicely with the technology upgrades the company requires,” Franklin said.
“I can’t be the only IT person with that knowledge,” Corey replied.
“People like you are few and far between,” said Franklin. “And it can be difficult to find somebody with that expertise who is looking for a new job.”
Corey was not looking for a new job, but when Franklin told him what the position would pay, in American dollars which were worth much more than Canadian dollars, Corey submitted his resume. Two weeks later, he flew to San Francisco for an interview with the Ancestry Discovery executive recruitment committee.
When Corey was interviewed for the job, he told the interview committee that he knew his full family line, stretching back over fifteen hundred years. “Hard to believe, but I have a document that tells me where I came from. It details the full family line. I guess that is why I’ve never had my DNA tested.”
Members of the interview committee were impressed. “If only we could get DNA to write family histories,” said Hank Parsons, Ancestry Discovery CEO. “Do you think there is an IT fix for that?” he added with a laugh.
Corey smiled. “I know my family tree knowledge is the exception, not the rule,” he said. “I’d feel good about helping others create family trees using DNA. But no, I don’t think we could use IT to have DNA write family histories. We could use IT, though, to improve the way people connect, communicate and share family trees based on DNA results.”
Three days after his interview, Corey was called by Hank Parsons with the news that the job was his for the taking.
“The company uses DNA to help people find genetic connections and to build family trees,” Corey told Indira. “I’d be able to ensure the technology required to help others connect genetically is fully functioning.”
Indira nodded wistfully and then looked away.
“I know,” Corey said. “People finding their roots and connecting to each other is so different than your experience.”
“It’s okay,” said Indira. “I have my family connection with you and Ashley. I won’t be able to work as a neonatal nurse in San Francisco, but it won’t matter because the job pays you big bucks!”
“That it does,” Corey laughed. He pulled out his mobile phone, called Hank back and accepted the job offer.
In San Francisco, to get up to speed before officially starting at Ancestry Discovery, Corey arranges meetings with Franklin, who will retire a few days before Corey starts as the Director of IT, as well as with senior members of his new IT staff. He also has a swab on the inside of his right cheek taken so he can have his DNA analysed.
“I presume my results are going to be German, British and African,” he says to the DNA tester. “But let’s make it official!”
Today, as he starts his job, Corey is to receive his DNA results.
As a single child with deceased parents who were both single children, he did not think his results would reveal any particular connections. He was open to it, but had no great expectations. Primarily, he needs to learn what those who have not inherited acorns or a family history go through when they receive DNA results so he can review the process from an IT perspective.
Arlyss and his daughter Megan are returning home from the fields where they have been ploughing in preparation for the spring planting. Even though Arlyss is heavily favouring his right leg due to the wound received when fighting for the Romans, he is taking large strides. As he moves his bulky frame closer to the house, Megan, who has inherited her height and broad shoulders from her father and her hair and beaming smile and eyes from her mother, seems to be ambling in comparison. Strong from working the field and with well honed muscles from exercises designed by her dad to keep her in fighting form, she easily keeps up with him, but chooses not to pass him.
Sigeburg, flowing hair tied back as is her habit, is outside the house under the spreading branches of the Oak tree, its leaves casting shadows upon her as she waits for her husband and daughter to return from the field. Her arms are crossed over her slender but sturdy frame, keeping her warm in the cool spring air.
“Why are you out here, instead of inside putting food on the table?” asks Arlyss as he inhales deeply, inflating his chest. He brushes back his untamed black hair. “Two people I know are famished from working all day with nothing but a few crusts of bread to eat.”
Megan laughs at her father’s remark, waiting for her mother to reply. She knows that her father frequently tries to intimidate her mother. And she knows her mother, although short and slim, will have none of it.
“I have something to tell you,” says Sigeburg. “I swear by Odin’s beard that the aura of our Oak tree called me out of the house to see visitors armed to the teeth come up the path.”
Megan strides past her father as he abruptly comes to a halt. She turns back and looks at him as a dark expression falls across his face.
Turning back to her mother, she asks, “Who came up the path?”
“All this time has passed and yet they have found us and come to our door,” says Sigeburg as she nervously rubs the Oak tree’s rough bark.
“Who came?” asks Megan again, trying to make herself heard.
Arlyss nods. Instinctively he knows whom his wife is talking about, but he remains silent.
“Roman centurions, looking for your father to fight for them again.” Sigeburg takes a deep breath. “I told them you were travelling to pick up supplies. They too have travelling to do, to talk to other warband leaders. They unsheathed their swords and said you had best be here upon their return.”
“We knew they would be back one day,” says Arlyss as he and Megan join Sigeburg in the shade of the Oak. “I have heard that many of our people in Britain are fighting again, but this time they fight against the Romans so they can take land that is more fertile and produces a more bountiful harvest.”
“The Roman centurions want you to fight again?” asks Megan. She was not yet born when her father fought for the Romans, but she knows it is why he limps when he walks.
“Let’s get bread to eat and I shall tell all to you,” says Arlyss.
“Bread, yes. And there is a hearty stew to go with it,” says Sigeburg. “Do you not think I can cook, even when I have news for my family?”
Arlyss puts an arm around his wife’s shoulders and bends to kiss her cheek. “I knew there was a reason I wed you,” he says with a grin as they step out of the shade of the tree and head into their dwelling. Megan, trailing behind, feels a strange tingle run up her back, as if the Oak tree is caressing her. She turns back to look at the tree and sees the three familiar red squirrels leaping up, branch by branch, towards the top of the tree.
Over a dinner of rabbit stew Arlyss tells Megan his tale.
“Romans commanded many Saxon warbands to go to Britain to help defend a long, high wall–Hadrian’s Wall, named after a Roman emperor–against Barbarians who did not want to pay allegiance or taxes to the Romans. The Barbarians were attempting to drive the Romans from Britain. We engaged them in fierce battles, and drove them back to their homelands. I took an arrow to my calf while leading my warband against the Barbarians.”
Megan nods and Sigeburg places a hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“After successfully defending the Wall, the Romans allowed us to choose coin or land in Britain as payment,” Arlyss continues. “Many Saxons choose land, as it was fertile and rain was plentiful. I chose coin, as I wanted to return to your mother. I heard those who chose land had to pay a steep tax to the Romans and were called up frequently to fight Barbarians who regrouped and continued to battle. Evidently, the Barbarians were like weeds in the field. You pluck them, only to have them return.”
“Will you go back to Britain fight?” asks Megan.
“Not if he wants a wife who cares for him,” replies Sigeburg.
“Ja,” Arlyss chuckles. “And my lame walk means that I cannot battle as I once did. Beaduring, who fought beside me against the Barbarians, is now the warband chief. I am content to farm.”
“I have met Beaduring and his daughter, Rosamund,” says Megan. “She travels with her father and prepares food for warriors.”
“Warriors need to eat, and for that they need women,” says Arlyss.
Sigeburg chuckles as she clears the table. “If all warriors were women who could fight like Megan,” she says, “men could cook for us after battle.”
“When Megan goes to do battle, Rosamund shall cook for her too,” says Arlyss as his wife tussles his hair.
“Does that mean I should join Beaduring and fight for the Romans?” asks Megan.
“You will join Beaduring to fight against the Romans,” her father corrects.
“Our field is not as dry as those in other parts of Saxony. Our farm produces enough to feed a family, as this meal demonstrates, with a surplus to sell at market. Those on drier farms are going to Britain to do battle against the Romans so that they can take land that the Romans hold. If I went, I would fight with our people, not against them.”
“You have taught me how to wield a spear, battle-axe and a sword as well as any man.”
“Better than any man,” corrects Arlyss.
“Up close I can use a scramasax knife to end a combatant’s life,” declares Megan as she tosses back her hair. “I shall battle in Britain against the Romans.”
“I would encourage it,” says Arlyss. “For our people need new land to survive. They do not need to pay most of what they grow to the Romans.”
“We would miss you dearly,” says Sigeburg as she places three goblets of mead on the table.
“You shall make a fine warrior’s name for yourself,” says Arlyss. “Beaduring’s warband will soon leave for Britain. He will be happy to have you join them. When the Romans return to our farm, I will show them my misshapen leg and tell them that Beaduring now leads the warband. They shall not expect his warband to oppose them.”
After dinner, Arlyss and Sigeburg go outside for a breath of air and stroll towards the mighty Oak. Three squirrels scramble around then and then each drops an acorn at the feet of Arlyss. He strolls past the acorns but Sigeburg stops and looks down.
“Wait,” Sigeburg calls to her husband. “See what the squirrels have presented to us?”
“What?” asks Arlyss.
“And why would they do that?”
Sigeburg holds up her hand and shushes her husband. “Listen,” she whispers, “to Jörð’s Oak tree.”
They are both silent for a moment. Then they nod, understanding.
Arlyss stoops over and picks up the acorns. “Plant all three in one hole?” he asks the tree. “But not until they heat up and tell her it is their time to be planted.”
“That shall occur when she is soon to be with child. From her tree, red squirrels will give her three acorns. She shall give her child the acorns and our family story, which we must present to her, and she shall add her story to it,” Sigeburg says.
“In that way, our family tree will march on,” says Arlyss.
* * *
“This passing on of the family tree, I don’t see it going on for many generations,” says Odin stepping towards Jörð.
Jörð backs away and holds up a hand as she asks, “And why would that be?”
“Everything ends, decays and becomes dust. Everything but gods,” Odin huffs. He does not try to get any closer to Jörð.
“Humans have not always been, but that does not mean they shall no longer be,” says Jörð, feeling as if she has stopped the god of war in his tracks.
“You know nothing of the universe I created,” says Odin.
“And you know little of the Earth that I rule within the universe.”
“Within my universe,” says Odin, with an angry tremor in his voice. “Earth may be your domain but its inhabitants belong to every god. Its people are an erratic lot. The rich and powerful do little more than accumulate territory and coin. The poor and powerless are preoccupied with putting food on their table. No human focuses on anything meaningful.”
“As long as my minions, the three red squirrels, watch over them, all shall be well. Megan and her line shall worship us, raise families, laugh and cry and love. And you shall not kill or maim them in your battles,” says Jörð.
“What is the god of war without people to fight?” blusters Odin. “If they choose to battle, as Megan has done, then I cannot stop them. I shall not harm them. Nor shall I protect them,” says Odin.
“She is a mighty warrior. She shall survive your war,” says Jörð with quiet confidence.
Odin shifts uncomfortably, and then gathers his composure. “You are asking one family line to do something that is not in their nature. Even lines of kings seldom last more than three or maybe four generations before they are disrupted and new lines take over.”
“I have given the task to a strong and focused family.”
“The father and mother and Megan. Yes. But what of Megan’s child and her child’s child? They shall not be as strong of heart. They shall be easily distracted. The passing on of histories and acorns shall not last more than seven generations.”
“Seven generations, say you?”
“I’d wager on it.” Odin’s words do not reveal the unease he feels creeping into his very being.
“But what would you wager?”
Odin thinks for a moment and then replies, his voice resonating with pure bravado. “Why I would wager you.” He steps again towards the goddess.
“Me?” asks Jörð, stepping back from the god of war yet again.
“If I am right, as I shall be, you will become exclusively mine. You shall not love any other god but me. You shall be there, always, for me when I desire you.”
“And if the god of war is wrong, as you shall be?”
“Why then you can love any god but me.”
Jörð is silent for a moment. “If you are wrong,” she says, “I shall not love thee, or any other god. I shall be free of all of you.”
“Free of us?” Odin ponders what Jörð has said. “That is quite the wager.”
“Do you fear you shall lose, and that other gods who want my love shall seek their wrath upon you?”
“I fear that not at all!” Odin shouts. “Consider the wager on.”
“Seven generations then?” asks Jörð.
“Seven, if it even lasts that long,” replies Odin.
“But you cannot end the passage by killing a descendant, or by using your powers to interfere with one.”
“I shall not interfere with the line. I shall do nothing other than to wage war as I am wont to do.”
Jörð smiles slyly. “I think you, and all other gods, have just lost a lover.”
* * *
The next morning, Arlyss and Megan are sitting under the Oak tree breaking breakfast bread. The tree spreads its branches over them, the lowest ones swaying to keep away flies and other insects.
“Last night I rode on Stony to visit Beaduring. My horse may be getting old and heavy, as am I, but he carries me well,” says Arlyss. “Beaduring is meeting his warband today, not far from here, by the first great bend on the south shore of the Elbe River. That is where you shall join him.”
Sigeburg comes out of the house and sits with her husband and daughter under the Oak as Arlyss continues. “Beaduring has many men who can go head-to-head with the Romans. He is also looking for warriors who can fight in a shrewd and cunning manner. He shall use you to lead a small group of warriors to baffle the Romans. You shall attack at night in advance of the full warband, whilst the Romans sleep. Then Beaduring and his men will swoop in to combat Roman troops in disarray.”
“I would be honoured,” says Megan.
“The Wall we worked so hard to defend must now fall,” her father adds. “If you are to drive the Romans from Britain, where many of our people now settle, it starts by taking the Wall.”
Arlyss gets up and helps Sigeburg and Megan to their feet. They stand in the shade of the Oak.
“Beaduring has three longships,” Arlyss continues. “A sail can be raised on each to help with the voyage as you row with the flow of the mighty rivers that lead to the coast. Once on the coast, if Njord, god of wind, is at your back, you can sail swiftly across the channel.”
“It will be a demanding journey,” says Megan.
“Ja. But one that must be made if you are to defeat the Romans.”
Megan nods and unconsciously places a hand on the hilt of her sword.
“When you are gone, your mother shall help with the planting and weeding so that our crops will be plentiful,” says Arlyss.
“And when we get home from the fields, your father shall help with the cooking so that our dinners shall be satisfying,” says Sigeburg.
Arlyss shakes his head. “Woman, know your place. Do not tell me what to do.”
“Forgive me. I should have said, ‘When we get home, if you want to eat, you shall help with the cooking. And if you do not help, you shall not eat.’ Is that better stated?”
Megan laughs and Arlyss says, as he joins his daughter’s laughter, “Eat or starve. You have given me options. That is all I ask of you. So now I can decide.”
Sigeburg hugs her husband. She hands him a small leather drawstring bag. “As you requested,” she says.
Arlyss takes the satchel and deposits into it three acorns that the squirrels passed on to them. He pulls the drawstrings tight and hands the pouch to Megan.
“This tree is much older than we are,” says Arlyss. “When we cleared the land, we made a pact with it. That it would stand forever.
“To think, your father wanted to chop it down!” exclaims Sigeburg.
Arlyss shakes his head. “I did not know then what I know now.”
“And what is that?” asks Megan.
“Jörð has planted this Oak tree for us,” Arlyss replies.
“She picked us to share it with our family line,” Sigeburg continues. “We have been chosen to share our tree and family story with you, as you shall share it with your child who shall share it down the line, through generations.”
“We are passing the Oak tree’s offspring on to you. You are going to Britain to do battle. Eventually, with these acorns, you shall continue the line of the mighty Oak,” says Arlyss. He clears his throat. “By their warmth, the acorns will tell you when you should plant them. If you do not feel warmth, even if you are with child, do not plant them. Let their heat dictate your actions.”
He hands Megan the small leather pouch containing the acorns. She ties it to a loop at the waist of her leggings.
“Our Oak tree, often still and silent, one day rustled her leaves and told me to be with your father,” Sigeburg says. “Soon after that you were born.”
“She told me to train you as a great warrior,” Arlyss says. “She gives us a place to sit in the shade and protects our abode from Thunor’s elements.”
Megan looks up as the tree spreads its branches. “She is truly a majestic tree. I have always relished the first signs of spring when she begins to put forth leaves. As a child, I joined the red squirrels in climbing her branches. I have not climbed them in some time, but the squirrels still dance in them.”
Sigeburg joins her daughter in looking up into the Oak. “The tree has told me that you shall make the new land your home. It shall be as if our family has spread its roots. You shall plant your acorns on your new land. The tree that springs forth shall bless you and your child.”
“As your tree grows, be with it,” says Arlyss. “I like to place my forehead on the tree to feel her heartbeat.”
“Ja,” says Sigeburg. “Our tree, she is alive!”
“When your child prepares to go forth,” Arlyss continues, “you shall pass on three acorns from your tree.”
“You shall do this,” says Sigeburg, “for the tree is our rebirth. It is why you shall also pass on our family’s story, which is now your story, along with the acorns.”
Megan nods her head and wipes tears from her eyes. “I feel as if I will be taking you with me.”
The family leans in and hugs under the Oak tree as it bends branches to embrace them. Megan reaches out and strokes the tree’s rough bark. Her father and mother join her in caressing their tree.
The Oak tree, its heart beating rapidly, responds to their touch by emanating a brilliant white aura.
“I feel blessed,” says Megan.
“So blessed,” says Sigeburg, as Arlyss nods in agreement.
Megan steps back from the tree. “My blades are sharp and shall help me slay many Romans,” she says as she hugs her mother and father one last time.
“Do me proud,” Arlyss whispers in her ear as he holds her close.
Megan adjusts her weapons and pats her small bag of acorns. She nods to her parents, turns from them and heads out, following the river towards the great bend.
Arlyss and Sigeburg stand under the Oak tree watching their daughter disappear as she heads towards the warband lead by Beaduring and the boats that will take them to Britain.
“Really,” says Sigeburg.
“What?” asks Arlyss.
Sigeburg grabs his shirt. “The tree said that you are to come with me.” She heads towards the house, pulling her husband behind her as the three red squirrels in the tree chatter joyously.
“But we have a field to finish ploughing…”
“The field will be there tomorrow. We must do what the tree asks of us. Now come,” Sigeburg says, as she leads Arlyss through the door and into the house.
Megan reaches her destination and greets familiar faces. She embraces some and is embraced by others. The men who used to follow her father know that Megan is a fearsome warrior they want on their side.
Megan finds Beaduring talking to a dozen men who each lead a group of warriors in his warband. He smiles when he sees her and they embrace.
“Good day,” says Beaduring.
“And to you,” Megan replies.
“Several of my captains you know,” says Beaduring, motioning to the group that surrounds him. “All have served under your father and welcome you to our warband.”
The captains all raise fists and hail Megan, who smiles and nods in return.
“We are discussing travel plans,” Beaduring continues. “How we shall join others on the North Sea coast and sail to Britain.”
Megan nods. “I look forward to the battles to come.”
“As do we all,” says Beaduring. “But before we travel to the coast, you must have sustenance. Rosamund is in the tent, tending to drink and bread.” Beaduring points to a Geteld tent with women moving in and out, some carrying jugs of mead and others with baskets of bread.
“We shall talk soon,” says Megan before she turns and heads towards the tent.
She reaches the tent, ducks in and sees Rosamund from behind. A head shorter than Megan with brunette hair tied back in a long ponytail, Rosamund is lifting a basket of bread. Megan pauses and smiles, waiting for Rosamund to turn.
When Rosamund turns and sees Megan, she lets out a yelp and fumbles with her basket of bread before quickly placing it on the ground. The two women step towards each other and embrace heartily. Three the other women gathering bread in the tent pay them no attention.
“I told my father that you would accompany us,” says Megan, pulling her head back but not relaxing her embrace.
“Once I learned that you would be with us, I insisted.” Rosamund hugs Megan tighter.
“I shall do battle with your father. After battle, I shall need food and soothing.”
“And I shall feed and soothe you.” Rosamund breaks the embrace. “We shall start with feeding.” She leans down, picks up a loaf of bread and hands it to Megan. “And when we pause our travels to sleep, there shall be soothing.”
Megan takes several bites of bread. “I must join the warriors,” she says. “We shall soon board longships and begin the journey to the coast. Your father has three longships at anchor. With one hundred men on each, we are a mighty legion of warriors.” She bites again into her bread.
“You are as hungry as you are mighty!” Rosamund says with a broad smile.
Megan laughs, nods at Rosamund and then turns and leaves the tent. She returns to where Beaduring is standing, surrounded by his captains and his warriors.
Beaduring lifts his sword over his head and shouts with a booming voice, “To Britain!”
The warriors unsheathe their swords and wave them high over their heads. “To Britain,” they shout and cheer. “To Britain!”
The leather drawstring bag containing three acorns dangles from the loop on Megan’s leggings as she shouts with the others.
As the warriors head towards the longships, Megan does not see three red squirrels, sitting a short distance away, chatting and cheering her on.