Unfortunately, the ax broke when he tried to cut off a piece. The stone blade simply split right across the middle, and when Norman showed it to Neil, who did the stone work for the family, his brother had shaken his head in disbelief.
"That was good stone," Neil said, lifting both halves in his hands. Then he tossed them over to the rock pile. "It'll make good blades for something else. I'll have an ax for you in a couple days. Better go tell Norma."
Norma kept their books for when the tax collector came along. She kept track of every rock they picked up and every fallen limb from the forest. She did such an exceptional job, in fact, that the tax collector had stopped going over the books and always seemed quite happy -- even anxious -- to take her word for the taxes. Norma found this unacceptable, and if she had a chance, she always trapped the man in the kitchen and made him go through the books one page at a time, which was generally five books per month, two hundred pages each, and five hundred entries per page.
Norman found her in the kitchen, counting out pieces of dried grain to feed the chickens and marking the numbers down.
"The ax broke," he said, shuffling his feet. Norma always made him nervous.
She looked up, quill in hand and scowled. "Broke?"
"Yes ma'am. The stone."
"How many pieces?"
She jotted something down in the book --
The ground shook. Then shook again and a moment later they could hear the growling words of ogres.
"What could they possibly want?" Nan asked, looking up from the hearth where she had been stirring the pot.
"Nothing good," Norman mumbled, but he felt grateful for a good reason to go outside. Unfortunately Norma followed him and Nan trailed behind. A dozen ogres were stomping into the yard. They looked like rather unhappy ogres, too. They waved swords, shields and one had the audacity to swing his mace against their wagon, which fell apart, the wood flying around in splinters.
"How dare you!" Norma shouted. She still had her quill in hand and waved it like a weapon. "How dare you break the wagon! Do you have any idea how long it is going to take to list all those pieces!"
The ogre who had broken the wagon looked at her, head tilted as though he didn't quite know what she was saying. Norman realized that most people reacted the same way.
"You took the sacred limb-thing from the dead!" the ogre shouted. The ground shook. "You took and we scent it here! Give back or will be house I hit next!"
"You have a treaty," Norma reminded them, still sweeping the quill back and forth in the air.
"Says no kill humans," the ogre replied. "Doesn't say no kill house and wheeled-thing."
"Ah. Good point. What is it you want?"
"Sacred limb-thing! Old king took when he left to die. We wait ten --"
"Hundred," another ogre said.
The ogre looked over his shoulder. His companions went silent. Then he turned back to Norma. "We wait a long time and go to collect. It gone! Trace to here. Give us back sacred limb-thing!"
"Oh," Norman said. He wasn't used to speaking up, but he didn't want to be counting pieces of house for the rest of his life either. "Was this sacred limb-thing next to some big bones? Kind of long? Odd squirrel marks on it and breaks stone axes?"
"A -- yes," the ogre said.
"I'll get it for you."
"No -- show us -- You must not --"
But the ogre was too slow. Norman had all but leapt over to the wood pile and pulled it out.
"Here it is," he said and held it up.
The ogres went to their knees.
"Hail the new king --"
"Hold on!" Norman said. "I am not your new king!"
"You hold the sacred limb-thing. You are ruler."
They were not listening to him as they bowed their heads to the ground. Some looked possibly as shocked as Norman felt.
And it was then that Norman had the most brilliant thought of his entire life. He shoved the sacred limb-thing into his sister's hand.
The ogres looked from one to the other.
"Short reign, that one," the ogre said and shrugged. "All hail the new Queen --"
"No, no, no!"
"But Norma, they need you," Norman said, though he kept well out of reach. She tried shoving the limb at him, but he wasn't going to take it. "Norma, think about it! They have never made a list of anything!"
"That's not possible. How could they survive so long without lists --" She looked at the ogre's designated speaker. "No lists?"
"No lists Queen Human Person."
"These ogres need me!" she shouted. "I'll get my things and we'll start out right away. I fear I'll have to take a couple books and some ink --"
"We'll manage," Nan said with a hand on her sister's shoulder. "Let me help you pack."
The two went back into the house. Norman turned to the ogres and gave a bow of his head. "I'm sorry," he said.
When the ogres left, he knew it was going to be years before they saw them again. Norma was already jotting down notes. "How many ogres? How many pairs of boots? How many caves . . . ."
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