I suppose I shouldn’t have expected to find the old trails. We had our work cut out for us even then, when we were diligent about it. Proving up that territory took time, grit, and a hulking, battle-scarred maul with a wicked hook at the end, perfect for tearing the guts out of stickerbushes and orcs alike. I never Christened that instrument of destruction, at least not well enough to remember now, but I can still feel its nubs and cracks and splinters beneath my palms. That beast of a stick refused to yield a comfortable grip, and I refused to want one.

Somehow I re-discovered the maul every spring when it got warm and dry enough to venture to the othersideofthefence. Ben and I would tear through half a dozen rotten sticks in the first few days—soggy explosions of bark and moss and bugs that did nothing to beat back the hordes of plants that had invaded our forts. We’d lose skirmishes again and again until I found the maul half-buried under last year’s leaves, abandoned in a mess of once-conquered, now-thriving stickerbushes. I’d unearth its sun-bleached hilt, raise the muddy hook high, and like Aragorn and Andúril, or Luke and his lightsaber, or Link and the Master Sword, we’d change the tide.

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