Chapter 67 The Craftsmanship of the Throne

Amidst the redwood forest towered one such organism that had deeper roots than all the rest of it’s magnificent brethren. Standing as an obelisk of the sun, this redwood represented the heart of the forest. As a seed it had chosen this location to begin a new forest over a millennia ago. Once a grassy plain, this redwood sapling had competed for resources against the system of grass which had established itself many years before. The redwood had abandoned it’s kin and a guaranteed growth in its parent forest. 

But where was glory in that?

Was not the redwood the mightiest of all the chthonic sentinels? To conquer new land and triumph over the weak with ferocious tenacity was the joy of living. The first imperative upon landing on soil was to secure roots and lock in place. The chosen spot would be the base, the central headquarters for its entire life. Embed into the ground and choke out the nearest grass roots. They were thin and flexible but the sheer strength of the redwood roots could squeeze tight enough to prevent resources from reaching the grass blades. A wasteland of dead roots would crowd the underground, though the surface would seem like a harmonious sapling amidst a glade of grass. The truth was that the redwood was cementing its place in the area, a matter of time before the blades of grass would perish from starvation or the shade that the first leaves of the redwood cast. A dark shadow to prevent competition from growing. The sapling brutally destroyed everything in a circle around it, the killing radius of the tree.

From that point this redwood became feared as an unstoppable arboreal vanguard. None can enter its sacred ground and thrive. The grass was determined, however, and they relentlessly tried to swarm around the small redwood, cutting supply lines and barraging the air with pheromones to attract bacteria and animals, tempting creatures to devour the sapling. The siege lasted for years and years, the grass whittling down the redwood in a multi-generational battle of attrition while the young tree inexorably gained ground, driving out the grass and absorbing the nutrients of the fallen into itself. Through days of drought and heavy rains and powerful winds and polluted airs and toxic soils the power struggle took no days off. The constant battle honed the redwood into a deadly pillar of solid carbon. 

But the redwood knew the secret to survival that allowed it to build in scarce months where it should have conserved. As a sapling the first task had been to establish roots, true, but more than mere entrenchment was the offer to form a treaty with the web of fungi underneath the topsoil. Most fungi had not been interested in this venture, it offered few benefits with very high risk. 

One strand of mycelium had been enamored by the daring redwood who thought to make itself a warlord in a foreign land. The prospect of a hopeless, uphill battle thrilled the mycelium for that was the key to immortality. 

Complacency is akin to atrophy. 

The glory-seeking redwood and the immortality driven fungi fused root to mycelium in their genetic pact. They exchanged information and resources, thus the mycorrhizal relationship was formed. During the worst years the fungi traded with shrubs and bushes kilometers away, going through the complex market system of the entangled mycelial merchants. Vital resources had been bought at steep prices. The redwood never wilted and never faltered. The central pith was armored by increasing layers of bark and the roots twisted deeper and thicker as the branches grew higher. The influx of sun allowed the redwood to pay all debts back to the fungi and by this time it was an unstoppable force. Centuries rolled by and the grass armies were devastated and they lost much land. The redwood laid its seeds and accomplished its goal to begin a forest. Many challenges still lay ahead, invasive insects and termites killed many new saplings after heavy storms forced insect populations to migrate, many other trees challenged the redwood’s dominion and though the fighting was always fierce and many casualties were sustained the redwood never lost and added its knowledge so that by the end of the millennia it was great and wise, taller than the rest of the forest and dwarfing any plant or animal bound by gravity to be small and dwell on the surface. The redwood ruled underground, on the ground and above the ground, three very different worlds at once, master of them all was this redwood.

It had seen the lives of many creatures come and go, the sun and stars from every angle, so much so that they hung in the night sky different than when it had been a sapling, the cycle of death from birth to decomposition, with much firsthand experience of the latter.

A hundred and twenty meters it had obtained. Little else in the world could boast such grandiosity. 

The redwood could be described as legendary, even by human standards it matched any of the most breathtaking wonders of the human race. 

It was this history, though ignorant were they on the specifics, that Deo commissioned his throne to be crafted from this very redwood, the quintessential monument of the manmade idea that is tree. 

Deo chose among the few living master carpenters of un-Ophir an elderly man in his late eighties. The man no longer stood straight but had a sharp mind and a quick tongue. He passionately loved his craft and all he made with his bare hands. Though the younger carpenters were all world-renowned, none seemed to appreciate the art of transmuting a living thing into an object while maintaining that essence of life, the memory of the organism. None but the bitter old man with the most scars and the deepest lines on his hands. Lines that each told a story and stories that the old carpenter could regale their entirety of.

Deo never asked his name, only that he committed his skill to the craft. The man obliged, knowing full well the alternative. Politics didn’t matter to the man, that the new lord of Ophir destroyed most of the city was of no consequence to the carpenter, but the senseless waste of killing a great tree for a glorified chair made him bitter. But the tree’s fate was doomed regardless of the hands that would tear it down and shape it. The other carpenters wouldn’t be able to do it justice, that was the compelling force behind the old man’s acceptance.

No one had his skill or his love. This redwood tree, tallest and eldest of the forest, deserved a carpenter equal in wisdom and talent. It was his honest and humble opinion that the other carpenters were simply worse. Small minded men who didn’t possess the creativity necessary to construct a timeless piece of art. He gave the new lord credit for choosing the best out of the lot, he wasn’t just a megalomaniac, he also had good tastes.

Arriving in the forest, the old carpenter eyed the redwood tree with both awe and sorrow. Its long and arduous life, a fabled being in its own right, would come to a sudden end randomly by a cranky old carpenter. The lumber workers acknowledged its size and might but to them it was just another job, another tree. The carpenter decided to make this tree, this throne, the best work of his lengthy career. Not for his legacy, not for the new lord, not even out of respect for the craft, but he would dedicate it all to the redwood, unfaltering patron of the forest.

Planning went by too fast and the efficiency of human tools brought down the great pillar of living wood that had stood as a shrine of nature for over a millennia with a creak and groan, then a short fall culminating with a thunderous crash that shook the ground. The silence in the forest after the bang lasted all day, perhaps out of respect or perhaps such a terrifying noise unnerved everything in the forest for the rest of the day. Still, the old carpenter felt the loss and soothed the felled tree with kind words.

There was work to do and the carpenter would only have one chance to carve a throne from the stump, the most optimal portion of the tree to use for a throne. He had the heavy stump hauled back to his workshop, the other parts of the redwood would be left in the forest. The carpenter refused to remove any more from the forest, the tree’s proper resting place, than he needed for the project. 

The carpenter always believed in listening to the wood he worked with. Sense the direction the design was taking as influenced by the spirit of the wood. Each tree had its own unique shape and size, and therefore each piece of furniture should take on the personality that the tree displayed by its twists and bulks and features. 

The old man sighed as he ran his fingers along the top of the stump, getting a feel for the consistency and texture of the wood and studying the history of the organism. The thickness of the bark and inner layers of wood indicated an extremely virulent life, with access to surplus resources and enough competition to forge a hardiness that an easy existence could never reproduce. Seeing the innermost rings jumbled in asymmetrical circles with parts that stuck out or caved in or formed some such shape that suggested a tumultuous early life. The spacing of the early rings meant that the first years went by dangerously fast. Growth was slow and starvation a looming possibility every season. The poor shape of the rings were molded by wars and disputes over territory. Losing a foothold one year showed itself as a caved in section of the ring, deforming the circle. Years of retaliation recovered the lost ground and as circles that stuck irregularly out from the geometry. 

The carpenter could only read the abridged version of the tree’s life, save for the end of course. Who the war was against and what the days and years were like would be lost on the carpenter. The thick rings in the middle and outer portion of the stump boasted a triumphant victory and a surge in growth. 

It bore the scars of an organism that lived for a thousand years. A lightning bolt had nearly destroyed the tree some five hundred years ago and the wood was darker here, patterns etched into bone of zig-zagging lines, jagged and crude. A tsunami failed to uproot the redwood some ninety years ago. The bark near the base contained a semblance of water damage, somehow the tree did not get obliterated by the force of water. 

A tornado contorted some branches deep enough to form knots in various parts of the tree several hundred years ago. It survived animals carving homes inside it, termites attempting to devour it, even disease could not claim this mammoth of a tree.

“If you weren’t so sturdy, so great and majestic, you’d still be alive. It is the sickly trees who don’t enjoy illustrious lives that are spared from human destruction.” The old man said to the large redwood stump. He cleared everything in his workshop to make room for the massive undertaking. 

The old man made it explicitly clear that no one was allowed to enter or disturb him for the full duration that he worked on the throne. 

“In a way you’ll live immortally as a throne. This process will transform and preserve you. I can do nothing else for you but make men bow down before you in fear and veneration, the same air you commanded as lord of the forest. Now you will have to get used to being lord of the dead.”

The old man did everything by hand, with simple tools and aching joints. He muttered to the tree constantly, used to talking to his raw material as he got to know and learn from it. Days passed before a rough shape was even recognizable. He did everything meticulously slow and thorough, not a single finger touched the tree that didn’t know its intent and direction. Considering his care and caution, he worked fast, deliberate in his single craft honed by a lifetime of building things from blocks of organic material. 

“The young lord Deo, he will be the one to sit upon you. I think not a worthier human exists for you than that one. Once I learned of your life, saw and felt the scars you brandish like trophies, did I finally realize that you are as hungry for conquest and power as Deo is.” The old man chuckled dryly. “I was saddened when I saw you cut down like a piece of firewood. That is no fate for such a creature as yourself. But you welcomed the challenge of our saws and fought us. We went through half a dozen! But of course, you are not so weak willed as to sulk and rail against your fate. You, my friend, grip fate with root and branch and throttle the poor bastard until he begs you to stop.” The carpenter experienced something as he carved the stump he never felt before, the sense of feeling the tree’s spirit and customizing the furniture attuned to the individuation influenced by the transformation process. It was a sense based on the wood’s style, as projected by the old man’s own interpretations, however professional, of the ritual from tree to chair. 

This redwood was different. The carpenter’s hands were guided, no, drawn in by the redwood as some sort of siren call, lulling the carpenter into a trance of the redwood’s desire. It carved itself into a throne through the carpenter like a puppet, the harbinger of its own horrific design.

Any work done flowed into the next segment seamlessly, the knots, layers, rings, everything about this redwood stump beckoned toward the final shape of the throne. 

A month of full days carving, sanding, crafting the massive chunk of redwood into the throne commissioned by Deo before the old carpenter declared it was finished, just as the spring thawing approached. 

It took yet another day to transfer it to atop the ziggurat, which Deo ordered to be done in secrecy and covered with a tarp. Not even Deo had seen it at this point. 

Deo walked up the back steps to reach the throne spot of the ziggurat. He did so with hardly a suppressed grin. His eyes were bright with anticipation. The last month had seen him commit much time to improving the ziggurat. Adding statues, furnishings, an area on the first and second floor for a banquet or specific space to host an audience. The sides were mostly filled with drab adornments, adding to the overall scene that Deo was trying to create. It was all for the look amidst the wasteland of a former city. The finishing touch, the crux of his empire, was the redwood throne.

Deo thought of little else the last month. Not much went on in the world and administering to his empire took only part of the day. A slow month filled with preparations. Spring would see the world come back to life, see the humans scrambling for the best spot on their doomed precipice. 

Deo peeled back the tarp. Revealed underneath the blanket was a throne that dwarfed him. It’s bulk took up much of the space of the top floor, it was both taller and wider than a person. The throne weighed roughly a ton and Deo could see that it was a single piece carved from the stump of the redwood he had chosen. The skill of the carpenter allowed the throne to look closer to a tree that grew naturally into a chair. The tree still felt alive, felt like it had developed into this shape, that this shape was the essence of the tree, what it had always been. Deo traced his fingers around the damascus-like swirls, the rings and knots, that told the tree’s age. Whirlpools of solid mass, frozen forever trapped by mineral and molecule. Deo circled around and noted the redness of the throne.

Deeply dynamic, organic rustic crimson, lightless embers, ashy blood. The faded red of an ancient book bound by dyed leather and stained by dust and cobweb. Less saturated than a ruby but somehow more brilliant. Whereas the ruby formed millions of years ago and became timeless and flawless in that scope, the tree had struggled, killed and been killed. It contained multitudes unknown to a crystal removed from the evolving game of prey and predator. The redness was one of kingly pride and nightly mirth, where the moon looked bloodied in contrast to the reflection that its light bounced off the wood from. One could imagine a ritual sacrifice performed over the throne, and witnessing it drank the flowing blood, reddening it slightly as though it were blushing seductively. It did attract attention, the eye was drawn in by the misshapen design that forgoes all conventional sense of symmetry and proportion. The arms of the throne were uneven in size and position, the backrest of the throne too high yet naturally cut where any other length would have been inadequate, unfulfilling to the visual sense. The organic stylism lent itself well to the surreal placement of it on a modern ziggurat meters off the ground where a two thousand kilogram redwood throne carved of a single stump was rooted as once it had been into the capital of a warmongering necromancer, commanding legions of the dead and sitting upon a throne whose crafter Deo could only describe as having a power so alike his own Aspect that it bordered on the uncanny. That the throne should feel as alive, preserved like his undead, as the tree had ever been. That the sense of sadism should accompany Deo when he sat upon its smooth seating proved to both man and chair that they belonged to one another. One fed off the other. Perhaps Deo and his throne formed their own mycorrhizal symbiosis. 

Deo leaned his head against the back, reaching less than halfway from the top of the throne. 

Deo would have been nothing more than a bystander to his own throne if not for the supernatural purple eyes glowing that demanded a presence of their own. The throne was merely the circumstance in which Deo sat, not the entire draw. 

Deo shivered in his throne. At long last his dominion authenticated. His mind cleared as he relaxed into the embrace of the throne. It whispered words of the future, of torture and war, the prospects in which vanity and glory could be obtained. Strategies of brutal cunning, techniques only a tree could formulate. The all-encompassing infestation of those spindly fingers wrapping themselves around the lungs of the living. Crush, the throne said. Crush everything. 

Deo was struck with madness. Madness remained superior to genius, for genius was bound by morals and ethics and the solidarity that came with the betterment of humanity. No such restraints shackled Deo, not with the throne begging and pleading to go deeper into insanity. To see what humanity was capable of enduring. 

Let madness enter, replace sleep, ravage the wakeful. 

Hege arrived to stand on Deo’s side. He had his usual black coffee and cigar. 

“Ah, it’s finished I see.” The big man remarked. Deo turned to him, caught off guard by Hege’s approach once again. 

“What do you think?” Deo asked.

“It suits you, a little too well I might add.” Hege sipped the scolding coffee.

Deo nodded. “Spring has almost arrived. I have my eyes set on the next city. Securing the countryside from the coast to the desert will be the next step though.”

“That is wise. Fortify your border and let everyone know you are here to stay. Speaking of which, it doesn’t seem your broadcast last month got much reception. There are no emissaries trying to establish diplomatic relations, no response from leaders, hardly any acknowledgement of your presence on the world stage whatsoever.”

“I figured as much. Their ignorance plays to my advantage. The purpose of my broadcast was not to form alliances and trade agreements but served as an open invitation to any form of criminal, outcast, or vagabond seeking to join my empire. Come spring they will flock and kneel before this throne.” Deo rested his chin against hand as it leaned on the arm of the throne. 

Hege puffed his cigar ponderously. “Clever, subtle.”

“You are free to challenge any of them to a game of course.”

Hege toasted his coffee with a grin, “Always a pleasure.” 

The hour was late and the moon big and full. Deo didn’t sleep. He stayed on his throne throughout the night thinking, just thinking. He resolved little in his nightly daydream, save for a single conclusion that he had reached just before the crack of dawn. He’d forget it as soon as head touched pillow, but the thought had entered into the world, a radical energy floating aimlessly on the wind. 

Aspects are alive.