Häkkinen Farm, Ensola, Finland
“Why, Magnus? Why would we need another load of wood?” Hannu gestured to the towering stack of split logs under the barn eaves.
Magnus lifted a log over his shoulder, carried it to the chopping circle, and dropped it in the snow with a thud.
“You know mother, always wanting us to ‘release energy’. Just chop.”
Hannu pulled back the axe almost to his heels and took an energetic swing that buried the entire axe head in the ground, well away from the log.
“I saw that. You’re going to dull the head, you vittumainen idiot.”
“Sure. One stroke in the snow and the edge is done. Listen, why don’t we go to Helsinki, just the two of us?”
“What for?” Magnus yanked the axe from the ground and took aim at the log. Thunk!
“We’re not little boys. We can check out the city, see what’s to see. I may want to move there?”
“What?! You wouldn’t be able to hold a job long enough to get money for food. Remember when Uncle hired you for—”
“—and I would have finished the job, but then Anna-Liisa came to visit. Remember her? Oh heavens, those braids. And what a chest!”
Magnus picked up a fragrant wedge of pine, propped it against another, then took aim with the axe.
“But she moved to Helsinki,” Hannu added.
“So that’s why you want to go?”
Hannu threw his hands up into the winter air with a grin. “Jumalauta, it’s not just her! There are probably thousands like her in the city. Why wait here in the country like a toad in the mud?”
Magnus looked at his brother. Always huge drama, always life or death. Then he remembered Anna-Liisa. She did have a big chest.
“Just for a few days, you think?”
“Hah! I knew you’d be up for it.” Hannu pointed triumphantly.
“I’m not saying that. I have to be responsible. Without me, you wouldn’t last an hour.”
“I know,” Hannu said, “that’s why we make such a good team. I’ll pick up women and you can watch the clock and buy train tickets and boring details like that.”
Magnus handed back the axe and pointed at the last wedge of wood standing in the snow.
“Split that clean with your eyes closed and I’ll consider it.”
“Easy as kusi. Want to tie a scarf around my eyes, make it interesting?”
“You got it, ace,” said Magnus with a laugh. As he pulled off his scarf, mother’s face appeared in the kitchen window.
“Boys? You’re up to something?”
Häkkinen Farm, Ensola
“Magnus, your father said he needs you in the barn.”
Mother was kneading bread, her knuckles and fingertips rosy from the work, her blond hair in an orderly braid over her shoulder. Magnus watched as she lifted the bread rose in a pale cream billow and then slapped it down again, fingers tracing lines in the flour-covered woodblock.
“Magnus.” Her voice was soft and lyrical, a cuckoo calling lazily in the forest.
“Yes, I’m going.”
He stepped outside into the humid morning air. The sun had been up for a while and the late spring smell of sweet shoots and rich earth swirled in the air like milk in coffee. He thought, as he crossed the dirt yard to the barn, that Eero would need him to lift hay, a sweaty and messy task with chaff falling in your hair and eyes, scratching your arms, and making your back ache. The faded yellow paint on the barn would need repainting this summer, he saw as he approached. Maybe he could convince Hannu to help him, though he usually managed to disappear when these chores came up.
His father’s voice echoed indistinctly from the darkness of the barn. Magnus stepped through the narrow side door and was greeted by the smells of dry grass, sun-baked wood, and the gamey reminder of livestock from long ago.
Eero bent over the workbench, wiping something with a rag. Sunlight cut through the sideboards of the barn in yellow stripes, draping across Eero’s back and the dusty floor.
As Magnus approached Eero raised and turned. He held out a large leather scabbard with a horn handle curving out the top.
“This puukko was my father’s. I think it’s time for you to have it.”
Magnus reached forward and grasped the carved handle.
“Thank you, father. I’ll take good care of it.”
Eero smiled and exhaled deeply. “Well, it’s a good knife. It can keep an edge for a long time without honing, and the carvings make it easy to hold with mittens. Here, let me show you one thing about the scabbard.”
Eero took the knife back and pulled it from the sheath, dark oiled leather revealing the pale gray blade. Light refracted off the ground edge showing tracery of scratches from years of hard use.
“See, this little pocket here holds a sharpening stone so you can keep it sharp when you’re out.”
“Maybe I can drill a hole in it and make a small lanyard so I don’t lose it?
Eero looked up and smiled then handed the knife back, handle first.
“Good. Make it your own.”
Magnus turned it over in his hands and stroked the edge of the blade with the flat of his thumb.
“Thank you father.”
He slid the blade in the scabbard and tucked the knife under his arm. What a gift, he’d have to show he deserved it. Hannu would be jealous. He stepped forward and wrapped one arm around his father’s shoulders, who did the same while patting Magnus’ stomach.
“That knife should take care of you if war comes. I hope you don’t have to use it.”
“I think it will go quick,” Magnus replied. “If they come here in winter they won’t have the stomach for it. I think those Muscovites will be like Italians in the snow, slipping and cursing. We’re better than them, Father.”
Eero dropped his arm and ran his hand through his thinning hair. “There are a few good Russians. But man to man, we could beat them, I think you’re right about that.”
He paused and took a deep breath of the musty barn air.
“Don’t be too quick to judge anyone, Magnus.”
He turned and looked at his son and Magnus felt love and scrutiny coming through his father’s pale blue eyes.
“Now let’s go have some breakfast. That bread should be out by now.”